Joel Benenson, chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, refused to say whether Clinton would agree to debate primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt) in New York next month, adding that such a discussion will only take place when Sanders stops his "negative campaign tone."
Benenson appeared on CNN’s At This Hour with co-host Kate Bolduan, who told Benenson that Sanders wants a debate in New York before the state’s April 19 primary and asked if Clinton will agree to it.
"What was notable this weekend wasn’t so much that, but in my mind was the Washington Post story with his own campaign talking about how their poll-testing more negative attacks on Hillary Clinton," Benenson said.
"Don’t distract here, Joel. Why wouldn‘t you debate?" Bolduan interjected.
"Because I think the real question is what kind of campaign is Senator Sanders going to run going forward," Benenson said.
He pointed out that Sanders spent $4 million in negative ads against Clinton the weekend before the March 15 primaries and lost all five states.
"This is a man who said he’d never run a negative ad ever. He’s now running them; they’re planning to run more. Let’s see the tone of the campaign he wants to run before we get to any other questions," Benenson responded.
Bolduan then told Benenson that the Clinton campaign in January was open to more debates and asked what has changed since then.
"There’s no risk; she’s done very well in the debates," Benenson said "But Senator Sanders doesn’t get to decide when we debate, particularly when he’s running a very negative campaign against us. Let’s see if he goes back to the kind of tone he said he was going to set early on. If he does that, then we’ll talk about debates."
Earlier this year the Democratic Party agreed to set more debates after the Democratic National Committee came under fire for holding too few debates at times when people were less likely to watch.
Critics argued the DNC and its chairman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) were intentionally holding fewer debates to protect Clinton to ensure that she gets the nomination.