This is a guest post by Geneva Kropper, a Government & Politics and History double major at the University of Maryland College Park. In addition to working for my campaign in 2014, she worked for Battleground Texas and the Wendy Davis for Governor campaign. She’s also been an intern with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. All of that in less than a year. Since the outset of this blog she has been a combination of webmaster, designer, tech support, editor, sounding board and interesting article finder. These are her opinions, although I agree with the vast majority of it.
Over the course of the summer, the Republican party has done a marvelous job turning the primary season into a farce. With the debate schedule announced for the fall, Democrats risk doing the same. There are four debates before Iowa caucuses this year; less than a quarter of the number in 2008. The motivation behind the limited debate schedule is clear. Hillary Clinton has already won the “invisible primary” - the race for endorsements and donors that can determine the outcome of the primaries months before they happen. Hoping to shelter Clinton from any more attacks on her already-battered reputation, the party wants to sweep her to the nominating convention as quietly as possible. Even for Clinton’s most die-hard supporters however, holding so few debates is a bad idea.
Increasing the number of pre-caucus debates is critical to re-energize the Democratic base, to find the best nominee, and to define the Democratic party in the face of Republican attacks. In 2008, Obama’s margin of victory was secured because of his ability to reach out to the electorate. First-time voters went to the polls in droves, thrilled to be voting for the promise of hope and change. In 2016, Democrats have been able to summon none of that enthusiasm. According to a national poll by James Carville’s Democracy Corps, only 52% of Democratic voters rank their level of interest in the 2016 election as a ten, compared to 67% of Republican voters. Black voter enthusiasm, which was key to Obama’s initial victory, now lags behind white enthusiasm by 5%. To bring voters back to the polls, the candidates must form a personal connection with their voters - the kind that can be made when they are seen live on a television screen, responding directly to the questions that the American people care about.
The DNC has already decided that Hillary Clinton is the candidate it wants, but for voters the choice is much less clear. Bernie Sanders’ meteoric rise into the national spotlight demonstrates a hunger for another option, but with only four debates, there’s little room to compare candidates. Giving voters multiple opportunities to evaluate the candidates will bring the best one to the forefront. The top candidate to emerge from the debates could be Clinton, but could also be a dark horse like Martin O’Malley - whose fiery speech about the number of debates has attracted national attention.
In each GOP debate, the candidates have tried to define the Democratic party as anti-American, anti-worker, and anti-capitalism. With only four debates of our own, Democrats have little opportunity to re-define the party and articulate innovative policy ideas. If the DNC increases the number of pre-caucus debates, the candidates can showcase their plans for America - and draw more undecided voters to the Democratic Party. With just a handful of additional debates, the Democrats can improve their chances in November before the first caucuses open in Iowa.