Hillary Clinton told reporters that she would participate in additional presidential debates if the party’s national committee sanctioned them, opening the door to more public contests between the Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has repeatedly called for more than the six debates than the Democratic National Committee has sanctioned and used a speech before the committee in August to blast the decision as biased towards Clinton. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has joined O’Malley in those calls.
“I debated a lot in 2008 and I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if (the DNC) decide to add more debates,” Clinton said during a press conference in Portsmouth. “And I think that’s the message a lot of people are sending their way.”
The comment is a departure from what Clinton has said about debates in the past. When asked by reporters in August about the debate schedule, Clinton said she would not comment on scheduling.
The debate issue has dominated much of what O’Malley, who is polling in the basement and is struggling to establish himself in the race has talked about for the last few weeks.
“Is this how the Democratic Party selects its nominee, or are we becoming something else, something less?” he asked the DNC in August. On a radio show after his remarks, O’Malley called his party the “Undemocratic Party.”
The DNC announced earlier this year that there would be six sanctioned debates on its side, with the first coming in October.
DNC officials have said it is highly unlikely that the party sanctions any more debates, even with O’Malley’s complaints. It is also unlikely, they said, that the party will loosen their rules that stipulate any candidate who participates in a debate not sanctioned by the DNC will be barred from future contests.
Sanders has not been as vocal as O’Malley about debates, but has called for the DNC to sanction more of them.
“I think this country benefits, all people benefit, democracy benefits when we have debates,” Sanders said in August. “And I want to see more of them.”
At the DNC meeting in August, Sanders said he would support debates sponsored by “groups that representing different constituencies,” including trade unions, gay rights groups and women’s organizations.
The back-and-forth between Clinton and other Democratic candidates about debates is a flip of the back-and-forth between the former first lady and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
In 2008, Clinton repeatedly called on Obama to sanction more debates.
“I think it’s a shame that Senator Obama will not agree to debates in Indiana and North Carolina,” Clinton said in 2008. “I’ve accepted any and all debates in both states because most people really want to see us. We’ve only had four debates between the two of us, and now it is down to the two of us. I think that voters are right to want to have a debate.”