The Republican candidates for president will likely debate 12 times this cycle. Not so for the Democrats. They'll face off on stage on a mere six occasions — which is great news for the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, and bad news for her rivals.
The Democratic National Committee first announced its plan for six debates back in May, and released a more detailed schedule for the first time on Thursday. Democrats' first debate won't be until October 13, and they'll have one a month after that. The date of the Iowa caucuses hasn't been finalized yet, but it looks like there will only be four debates before it — or possibly only three, if the caucuses end up being moved up before the scheduled fourth debate on January 17, 2016.
This is in part due to a bipartisan effort to cut back on the huge number of debates in recent years — there were 20 Republican debates in the 2012 cycle, 25 Democratic debates in the 2008 contest, and 15 Democratic debates in 2003-'04.
But the DNC has cut back far more than its GOP counterpart, and that's a boon to the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Fewer debates means fewer opportunities for Clinton's rivals to challenge her directly, fewer unscripted settings where she could make a gaffe, and less airtime that lesser-known candidates like Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb could use to get attention from a national audience. Though most observers thought Clinton did pretty well in the 2007-'08 debates, her camp surely thinks, "Why take chances?"
Unsurprisingly, the Sanders and O'Malley camps have issued statements making their unhappiness clear. Sanders said he was "disappointed, but not surprised," adding, "I think it's imperative that we have as many debates as possible — certainly more than six."
O'Malley strategist Bill Hyers was less measured. In an email to supporters, he said that the DNC's "arbitrary rules of exclusion are not only contrary to our democracy, they are clearly geared toward limiting a debate on the issues and instead facilitating a coronation." The DNC, however, has shown little inclination to revisit its decision so far.