Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, locked in a tight race for the Democratic nomination, agreed to add four more debates to the calendar, campaign aides said Saturday.
Under the deal, the Democratic candidates for president will debate next Thursday in New Hampshire as well as three more times in March, April and May.
But later Saturday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the Clinton campaign had not accepted the location of one of the debates Sanders had proposed, April 14 in New York. Clinton did agree to March 3 in Michigan and May 24 in California. “Why won't they debate in Brooklyn? What's the matter with Brooklyn?” he asked.
It’s unclear if the Democratic National Committee, which had previously denied requests to add an additional debate in New Hampshire, would allow the debates to be sanctioned. DNC officials said Saturday they were talking to the campaigns but nothing had been agree to.
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Clinton’s rivals, Sanders and Martin O’Malley, have long accused the Democratic National Committee of trying to help Clinton, the front-runner, when creating a schedule that called for later and less frequent debates.
But now that polls show Clinton may lose New Hampshire, and possibly Iowa, to Sanders, she is eager to have an additional platform to make her case in the final days. Sanders had said he would agree to debate next week if Clinton would agree to three additional debates.
NBC News and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper invited Democratic candidates to participate in an unsanctioned presidential debate Feb. 4 in New Hampshire. O’Malley, who is running a distant third in the race, immediately agreed.
Clinton told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Wednesday that she wants Sanders and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to agree to the debate in New Hampshire.
“What I’ve said to my campaign is that I would look forward to another debate,” she said. “I am, you know, anxious, if we can get something set up, to be able to be there. And so let’s try to make it happen.”
The DNC had said any candidates who participated in non-sanctioned debates would not be invited to the official six. Four debates have been conducted, but the next one doesn’t come until Feb. 11 in Wisconsin.
Earlier this week, Wasserman Schultz said the proposed debate would not be sanctioned. “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,” she said.
Some New Hampshire Democrats have been urging candidates to schedule another debate before the primary.
“We are grateful that the Union Leader and NBC have heard the voices of New Hampshire voters who have advocated loud and clear for a final debate since the summer,” the group New Hampshire Debates wrote in a letter to candidates. “Our historic first-in-the-nation primary will benefit immensely from a final, prime-time reckoning between the three candidates.”
For 32 years, there has been a Democratic debate after the Iowa caucuses, this year set for Feb. 1, and before the New Hampshire primary, the letter says.
Many complaints have been lodged at the DNC about the debate schedule, which included debates the Saturday before Christmas and the Sunday of a three-day weekend.
Since November, 145,940 people have signed Democracy for America petitions demanding the DNC hold more presidential debates.
“We strongly encourage every Democratic candidate to leap at the opportunity to add an additional debate to the absurdly limited official DNC schedule and work to find other opportunities to make the presidential contest the fierce competition of progressive ideas that Democrats deserve,” DFA Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said.
Wasserman Schultz said the debates have far exceeded the viewership of debates in past competitive primaries.
“We have consistently worked with our campaigns to ensure a schedule that is robust and that allows them to engage with voters in a variety of ways, whether through debates, forums, town halls, but also leaving them the flexibility to attend county fairs and living room conversations in states like Iowa and New Hampshire where direct voter contact matters so much,” she said.
The three Democrats are scheduled to appear on the same stage next week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner Feb. 5.