WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats will hold 12 televised debates during the 2020 U.S. presidential race, an increase from four years ago, to help voters sort through what is expected to be a crowded field of candidates seeking to take on President Donald Trump.
The debates will begin in June 2019 and continue through the following April, a period in which the field will likely narrow to a handful of candidates as nominating contests are held in a bevy of states.
The announcement by the Democratic National Committee on Thursday marks a departure from the 2016 race, when the party scheduled just six debates. That was criticized by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, who felt the compact schedule handed an advantage to the front-runner, Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, nine debates were held.
In the 2020 contest, two dozen Democrats or more could jump into the race. Many are expected to announce their intentions in early 2019.
There is no established favorite as yet, but some of those said to be considering campaigns include former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker; and current and former mayors Eric Garcetti and Michael Bloomberg.
The early debates could be spread over several nights to accommodate the expected high number of candidates, the party said. To qualify, they will have to satisfy criteria that include measurable support in opinion polls and grassroots fundraising.
Republicans faced a similar problem in the 2016 race, with a field so large the party was forced to hold two separate debates on a given evening. The earlier debates were mocked at times as ‘kids’ table’ events.
Intraparty debates often carry more risk than reward for candidates. With his background in television, Trump, however, was largely able to use them to his advantage during his maverick presidential bid.
Following Clinton’s victory over Sanders, the party was pressed to enact a series of reforms to bolster grassroots candidates. The debate schedule was set with that in mind, DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.
“My goal in this framework is to give the grassroots a bigger voice than ever before; to showcase our candidates on an array of media platforms; to present opportunity for vigorous discussion about issues, ideas and solutions; and to reach as many potential voters as possible,” Perez said.
The first nominating contests are scheduled to be held in February 2020 in the traditional early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The field may not narrow significantly until so-called ‘Super Tuesday’ in March 2020, when states such as California, North Carolina and Texas hold primaries.
Reporting by James Oliphant, additional reporting by Ginger Gibson; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Rosalba O'Brien