MSNBC and the New Hampshire Union Leader have announced plans to holdan unsanctioned Democratic debate on February 4. This would be five days before the New Hampshire primary and be the only Democratic debate between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
BuzzFeed first reported the news that was later confirmed by the Union Leader on its website. Publisher Joseph McQuaid lamented that this cycle would be the “first time in 32 years without a Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary.”
The event would be moderated by Meet the Press and MSNBC host Chuck Todd and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
The debate could provide MSNBC a well-needed ratings jolt. The network has been left out of the debates on both sides of the aisle and has been forced to watch as its cable news competitors, CNN and Fox News, set viewership records with their debates.
Martin O’Malley’s campaign was quick to announce that they would attend the debate. O’Malley has the most to gain from a national debate and has been vocal about the need for more debates. The Democratic National Committee, which has organized the debates this cycle, has said that any candidate who takes part in an unsanctioned debate risks being not being included in future debates. Hillary Clinton’s campaign said that the candidate would appear if the other two candidates agreed. Clinton’s campaign seemed to be going for a safety-in-numbers strategy, thinking that if all three took part, the DNC would not be able to penalize all three.
However, the Sanders campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told the New York Times that Sanders will not participate because the campaign does not want to risk not being included in future debates. Weaver also criticized the nature of the debate, saying networks cannot just announce a debate as they please.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has steadfastly defended the low number of debates, said in a statement, “We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule.”