If your dream in life is to watch Democratic presidential candidates debate on back-to-back nights you probably need some help; but you may also be in luck.
The Democratic Party announced on Thursday that it would host 12 presidential primary debates this cycle, starting in June 2019. But because the field is expected to be historically crowded, Chairman Tom Perez said that some of those debates will likely be split into two events on consecutive evenings, with participating candidates drawn at random.
That provision, which was unveiled during the conference call with reporters, is one of several that the DNC is adopting in the upcoming cycle in an attempt to create as level a playing field as possible for those seeking the party’s nomination.
Of the dozen debates being scheduled, six will take place in 2019 and six will take place in 2020—the last of which will occur in April. None of the four states that vote early (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada) will be allowed to hold a debate until 2020, so as to allow other states to have more agency in the primary process. And candidates will be allowed to participate in non-DNC-sanctioned forums, though officials said they reserved the right to “penalize networks and media partners” if they hosted non-sanctioned debates.
“We define a “debate” as an event where more than one candidate appears on stage at a time,” said spokesperson Adrienne Watson. “We will not sanction candidates who participate in forums, which we define as an event where only one candidate appears on stage at a time.”
The DNC said that the actual dates, locations, and sponsors of the debates will be announced in the coming months.
The most controversial provision, however, is likely to be how the DNC handles the sheer size of the field running. On the call, Perez said he expected the number of candidates to be in the double digits and called it a “first class challenge to have.” But he also conceded that it created complications when putting together a debate schedule.
Four years ago, the Republican National Committee faced the same problem and decided to hold “undercard” debates in which candidates struggling in the polls were relegated to earlier, lesser-watched sessions. Virtually no one liked the idea and the RNC ultimately scrapped it.
Perez said the DNC would adopt two reforms to ensure a more equitable process this go around. They would rely on factors other than polling to determine the full number of candidates who qualified to debate. Chief among those factors would be grassroots fundraising acumen.
And if the total number of candidates who qualified ended up being too big to fit on one stage, they would use a random selection process to break the group into two and host debates on consecutive nights. Perez said that the selection process would take place in public but both he and DNC officials declined to say what type of process it may be (like, say, picking names out of a hat). Perez also declined to say what his threshold would be for too many candidates participating in a single debate.
“Once we understand the size of the field and determine the threshold that would give us a much better handle on the number of people who will participate,” he said.