The Democratic National Committee on Thursday unveiled plans to host 12 debates during the 2020 presidential primary, with the first debate slotted for June 2019.
DNC Chair Tom Perez told reporters that six of the dozen debates will be held in 2019, while another six will be held in 2020. Perez said the first two debates will be in June and July of 2019, with one debate in September, October, November and December of that year. The final debate will take place in April of 2020, roughly two months before the Democratic National Convention in July 2020
The debate outlines were announced Thursday to get ahead of what is expected to be a deluge of presidential announcements in early 2019. Perez has said for months that he hoped to make debate guidelines public before the field of Democratic candidates is fully formed in an effort to avoid the calls of bias that plagued the committee in 2016.
Perez also said that none of the debates in 2019 will be held in any of the four early primary and caucus states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Debates in those states, Perez said, would take place in the run up to each contest in early 2020.
Perez did not outline specific dates or sponsors for debates or what standards they would use to determine entrance into all their contests. But the chairman did say that the DNC – at least initially – will consider more than just polling when determining the threshold to qualify to the first few debates. One consideration, he said, would be grassroots fundraising.
And in anticipation of a large and diverse field, Perez opened the door for holding debates on consecutive nights and dividing the field at random for the first two debates.
“We will likely have a large field of candidates. … We expect that large field, and we welcome that large field,” Perez said. “Accommodating a large field of such qualified candidates is a first-class challenge to have.”
The chairman added that he believed “random assignment is the fairest way to give everybody that opportunity to make their voices heard and articulate what they are standing for.”
Perez said his goal was “making sure every candidate gets a fair shake and making sure voters across America have an amble opportunity to get to know the women and men seeking the nomination of our party.”
The debate process was overseen by Mary Beth Cahill, a longtime Democratic operative and Sen. John Kerry’s campaign manager in 2004. Perez said Thursday that the DNC had solicited “feedback and recommendations from the people who know this process best” – namely former candidates, campaign operatives and party members who have worked with the DNC on debates in the past.
Perez has looked to avoid claims of bias on behalf of the DNC ever since he took the helm of the committee in early 2017, repeatedly saying that the biggest challenge the party faced was bringing people together and rebuilding trust.
Part of that breakdown of trust stemmed from the belief that the DNC was bias against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and took steps – like initially only sanctioning 6 debates – to protect former Secretary of State and eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. The two campaigns later agreed to hold more debates, but the claims of bias persisted beyond Clinton’s ultimate loss to Donald Trump.
Perez has said that the DNC’s goal ahead of 2020 was to make the debate process more transparent in order to “ensure that no candidate participating in our presidential nominating process gains any unfair advantage- real or perceived- during our primary season.”
And one way to do that, Perez and top DNC officials believe, is to organize and set standards for debates before many of the candidates have entered the race.
Under the current plan, candidates would be dissuaded from attending non-DNC sanctioned debates but would be encouraged to participate in forums where candidates appear back-to-back and not on the stage at the same time.