Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has asked the Democratic National Committee to begin primary debates this summer.
Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the nomination. Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is expected to enter the race this week.
The letter from Sanders to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) begins on a simple note: “Thanks for doing the excellent job you are doing.”
“In recent weeks, as I have traveled around the country, I have been hearing concerns from voters about the need for vigorous candidate debate. The people of this country are tired of political gossip, personal attacks and ugly 30-second ads. They want the candidates to engage in serious discussion about the very serious issues facing our country today,” he wrote. “In my view, the candidates for President should engage in a series of debates beginning this summer.”
The DNC announced last month that sanctioned debates will begin in fall 2015 and be sponsored by “a combination of state Democratic Parties, national broadcast media, digital platforms, local media, and civic organizations.” O’Malley’s camp has protested the schedule, saying “in a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors.”
Sanders argued to Wasserman Schultz that more debates, earlier debates translates to a greater chance of victory for the Democratic Party.
“It’s obvious that when more people vote, more Democrats win elections, and so the purpose of our campaign should be to encourage as much voter participation as possible,” he wrote.
“…In 2008 voter turnout was extremely high, and that vigorous process of multiple debates and an engaged nominating process, was one of the reasons for this increased voter turnout that enormously benefitted Democrats at all levels of politics.”
Sanders also wants “a less traditional form of debating by welcoming the opportunity to debate not only amongst members of the Democratic Party but also having debates between Democratic and Republican candidates during the primary process.”
“I believe that these inter-party debates would put in dramatic focus the shallow and at times ridiculous policies and proposals being advocated by the Republican candidates and by their party’s platform. It would also serve to engage large numbers of voters who typically do not pay attention to the process until much later when the general election begins to come into focus. By engaging these voters early and raising the stakes around the election I believe we can get people to participate at higher levels which will undoubtedly benefit Democrats up and down the ticket,” he said.
“Further, I also think it is important for us to debate not only in the early states but also in many states which currently do not have much Democratic presidential campaign activity. While a number of these non-target states have not in the past had much organized campaign presence, I believe it is critical for the Democratic Party and progressive forces in America to engage voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. By expanding the scope geographically of debates beyond the early calendar states we can begin to awaken activism at the grassroots level in those states and signal to Democrats and progressives in places like Texas, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming that their states are not forgotten by the Democratic Party.”
Sanders signs off to Wasserman Schultz with, “Keep up the good work.”