Two top Democratic candidates in the 2016 White House race suggested Friday night that party leaders have rigged the debate schedule in favor of frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“Only four debates … before voters in our earliest states make their decision,” Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor, said at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Minneapolis. “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before.”
O’Malley is particularly concerned about the party having just one sanctioned debate each in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in which primary votes are cast.
“That’s all we can afford?” O’Malley asked. “Is this how the Democratic Party selects its nominee?”
He also argued that limiting the total number of sanctioned Democratic debates to six, including two after the Iowa and New Hampshire votes, is allowing the rhetoric of Republicans candidates to go largely unchallenged.
“Republicans traffic in immigrant hate,” said O’Malley, who has been critical of the debate schedule since it was announced in early August. “We need debate.”
However, he made clear to reporters afterward that he thought the schedule helps Clinton.
Fellow 2016 Democratic challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, was also at the summer meeting and told The Washington Post that he agrees with O’Malley’s argument that the DNC has rigged the debate process.
Sanders has recently been gaining ground on Clinton, but he and O’Malley need debates to get out their message because neither has the estimated tens of million that Clinton has to spend on advertising.
And most political strategists think that frontrunners have the most to lose in debates because they are under constant attack by the challengers.
The wildcard in the Democratic primary is whether Vice President Biden enters the race.
Donors and other Biden backers have been ramping up efforts.
Josh Alcorn, senior adviser for the super-PAC Draft Biden 2016, told Fox News on Sunday that Biden has the potential backing but would have to enter the race before the first debate, Oct. 13, to catch up with the other candidates.
“He may not have the financial resources, but there is a ground swell of support,” Alcorn said. “I think having the vice president on that debate stage is an important part of the campaign.”
The DNC has said its candidates are being given ample opportunity to be on the same stage to debate, defending the schedule.
Clinton has 47.8 percent of the vote, compared to 26.3 percent of Sanders, 14 percent for Vice President Biden, 1.5 percent for O’Malley and 1.3 percent for former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, according to an averaging of polls by the nonpartisan website RealClearPoltics.com.