DNC Schedules 12 Presidential Primary Debates in Lead Up to 2020 Election

Tom Perez
Tom Perez / Getty Images

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez on Thursday announced Democrats will hold at least a dozen presidential debates between June 2019 and April 2020.

The announcement is the first of many decisions Perez will make in the coming months regarding the 2020 debate calendar. The former Secretary of Labor during the Obama administration said the national party will sponsor six debates in 2019, six more in 2020, and could potentially extend if the nomination process keeps going into late-spring, according to the Associated Press. He said he will announce dates, media partners, and venues for the debates in early 2019 and that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina won't host any debates until 2020.

Perez said the first two debates will have two rounds, possibly taking place over two nights, in June and July to accommodate what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field. The format will be unlike the Republican debates in 2016 where candidates were picked for the debates based on whether they were top-tier, Perez said, and candidates will be assigned at random for the debates.

"Democrats want to put our eventual nominee in the strongest position possible to defeat Donald Trump," Perez said, adding party officials have "listened to voices across our party about how we can make the primary process better." The plan offers significant changes from Democratic debates during the 2016 election cycle, the AP reports.

Perez's announcement Thursday comes after months of discussions among party officials, television network and previous presidential campaigns. Mary Beth Cahill, who ran John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, has led the process for Perez.

From the outset, Perez and Cahill stated a determination to avoid charges of favoritism that dogged Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, in part because of the debate schedule established by then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

In the last election cycle, Wasserman Schultz did not commit to an initial six debates until May 2015; the first debate wasn't held until that October. Democrats had a total of nine debates in that primary fight, not counting additional forums.

Perez also has used Republicans' 2016 experience as a guide. Then GOP-Chairman Reince Priebus sanctioned 12 debates for a field of 18 candidates, beginning in August. Some early debates featured two stages on the same night, but the GOP divided the field into essentially a varsity lineup and a junior varsity lineup of longshots.

"Drawing lots strikes me as the fairest way to ensure everyone gets a fair shake," Perez said.

Whereas Republicans used polling to determine candidates for the debates back in 2016, Perez says he wants to look beyond polling at other thresholds like grassroots fundraising or the number of field offices in the early voting states. Top Democrats also told the AP that the two-stage approach could be extended to later debates depending on the size of the field. Perez did not specify what he believes would constitute too many candidates on one stage, but he did reference "a double-digit field" during the June and July debates.