As the presidential primary campaign heats up, the Democratic National Committee has refused to increase the number of debates between the candidates. As several of the candidates call for more, the voices are rising from state parties, advocates and voters. On Monday, members of the Vermont state Democratic Party became the latest to join the call.
Nineteen members of the Vermont Democratic Party have signed on to a letter penned by Rutland County chair Scott Garren that asked the Democratic National Committee to add more debates. “Our mission in the Vermont Democratic party is to get democrats elected all up and down the ticket from the president on down to state representative. It’s absolutely crucial in order to do that that we capture as much enthusiasm from the voting public and the supporters of our candidates as we possibly can.”
Garren sees enormous excitement over the Democratic candidates, yet he believes the DNC is prejudiced. “The fact that Wasserman, Representative Wasserman Schultz, was Hilary’s campaign manager or co-manager in 2008 gives people pause to wonder about the independence of her judgment on the issue of debates. So I was moved, and after discussion with other senior Vermont democrats, to draft that letter and indeed 20 of my fellow state committee members signed on.”
The Vermont Democrats are not the only ones disgruntled over the debate schedule. Presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have both called for more debates. DNC National Committee Vice Chairs Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak used Facebook postings to call for more than the six scheduled debates. The vice chair of the New Hampshire Democrats, State Senator Martha Fuller Clark, also wants the schedule reconsidered. And last Wednesday an “Allow Debate Rally” was held in front of the DNC headquarters in Washington D.C.
Calls to the Democratic National Committee and the DNC Press Office were not returned in time for broadcast. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been adamant that the six scheduled debates are adequate. During her keynote speech before the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, broadcast on C-SPAN, she was interrupted by delegates.
Chanting of “We want debates” occurred as Wasserman Schultz spoke. She stopped to address them: “My friends, what’s more important? Drawing a contrast with Republicans or arguing about debates? Let’s focus on our mission and the task at hand. Enough is enough.”
University of Vermont Professor of Political Science Garrison Nelson doubts the Democratic hierarchy will capitulate. “The suspicion is that the fix is in for Hilary and I think that’s really what the issue is. There will be pressure for Wasserman Schultz to hold more debates. Now whether or not she responds is another story. But there’s no question that the Hilary Clinton candidacy is very flawed and the Democrats are scared to death that she will take them over the cliff. Will there be more debates? Probably not. It all depends on whether or not Mrs. Clinton and her army of handlers will permit it because that’s really to whom Wasserman Schultz seems to be answering to.”
Nelson adds that the letter from Vermont Democrats is perceived as self-serving by those who support Sen. Sanders. “Vermont’s officialdom, Madeleine Kunin and Senator Leahy and Representative Welch and so forth, all in line for Mrs. Clinton, and Governor Shumlin. But clearly there is a strong pro-Bernie sentiment in this state that wants to see more debates and wants to see basically see if she can handle herself against Sanders. Because she’s smart but she’s not a great debater.”
At the same time the state and national Democrats debate over debates, Vermont’s third party is officially supporting Sanders. Vermont Progressive Party Executive Director Kelly Mangan: “Senator Sanders is of course our native son. Bernie’s race is bringing up issues that we care very deeply about particularly getting corporate money out of politics and economic justice issues. We’re very proud of everything that he’s done during his career and we think that people are excited to hear what he has to say.”
The first Democratic debate is scheduled for Tuesday, October 13th.