Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders put the debate ball back into Hillary Clinton’s court on Wednesday, challenging the former secretary of state to three prime time debates to be held over the next several months.
The proposal came in response to Clinton’s call earlier in the day for Sanders to show up to a Feb. 4 debate in New Hampshire. Clinton had until that point been seen as wanting to limit the number of debates in order to sustain her once-commanding lead over Sanders. But her lead in Iowa has slipped away heading into next week’s caucuses. And Sanders’ lead in New Hampshire, which borders his home state, has grown in recent polls.
“From the beginning of this campaign Sen. Sanders has called for more debates. Secretary Clinton has not,” Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Now she is asking to change the rules to schedule a debate next week that is not sanctioned by the DNC. Why is that? The answer is obvious. The dynamics of the race have changed and Sen. Sanders has significant momentum.”
Clinton had not indicated until Wednesday that she was open for more debates. And asked back in September if she would press the DNC to add to its schedule of six debates, she demurred.
The proposed Feb. 4 debate would air on MSNBC on a Thursday. The DNC indicated on Wednesday that it is unwilling to sanction additional debates.
“Sen. Sanders is happy to have more debates but we are not going to schedule them on an ad hoc basis at the whim of the Clinton campaign,” Weaver said in his statement, adding that “if Secretary Clinton wants more debates that’s great.”
But Weaver laid out several conditions for Clinton.
“One [debate] in March, April and May and none on a Friday, Saturday or holiday weekend. And all of the three Democratic candidates must be invited,” he stipulated.
“If the Clinton campaign will commit to this schedule, we would ask the DNC to arrange a debate in New Hampshire on Feb. 4.”