Dec 30, 2015 10:50 PM

Steinhauser: O'Malley campaign calls on Sanders to get serious about push for more Democratic debates; wants to turn NH1 News forum into debate

NH1 Political Director -

CONCORD – Martin O’Malley’s trying to enlist fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in his push to add another Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire before the first-in-the-nation primary’s held on February 9.

As part of that effort, the former Maryland governor and long shot for the Democratic nomination is asking the senator from Vermont “to get serious” about joining O’Malley’s drive to turn an NH1 News forum scheduled for February 3 into a presidential debate.

O’Malley has fought for months for more Democratic presidential debates, often butting heads with the Democratic National Committee.

Regardless of the pressure from the O’Malley campaign, as well as from two DNC vice chairs and from top Democrats in New Hampshire, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chair, has stuck with her debate schedule of just six showdowns between the candidates. And the DNC has said they would severely penalize any candidate that took part in any unsanctioned debates.

New Hampshire’s only Democratic debate was held on Dec. 19. It was buried on a Saturday night during the holiday season and drew low ratings compared to most of the other Democratic and Republican presidential debates held so far this cycle. The showdown also took place almost two months before the primary. While there’s also only one Republican debate in the Granite State, it’s being held just three days before the primary.

O’Malley has accused Wasserman Schultz and the DNC of rigging the debate schedule to favor Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

Sanders, who has a slight edge over Clinton in an average of the latest polls in the Granite State, is open to adding more debates.

"Regarding debates, we've been consistent and clear all along that Bernie thinks there should be more debates with all of the candidates including Secretary Clinton, Sanders communications director Michael Briggs told NH1 News on Tuesday. “He thinks the more people get engaged and excited the better Democrats will do on Election Day and we're convinced that more debates would be an important part of getting more people involved."

But the O’Malley campaign’s not convinced of Sanders’ sincerity.

In an email release Wednesday, the O’Malley campaign charged that “the reality is that they have done nothing to challenge the DNC to schedule more debates in prime time,” adding that the Sanders campaign is “quite comfortable letting the DNC protect the front runner.”

"Saying one thing and doing another is the oldest trick in D.C., so we're sure that Senator Sanders' campaign will want to work together to secure another New Hampshire debate in the new year. Today, we ask Senator Sanders and his campaign to get serious about joining our effort to call on NH1 News to change their forum to a debate,” said O’Malley Campaign New Hampshire state director John Bivona, in a statement.

The O’Malley campaign is the second group to push for NH1 to change its “Live Free or Die” forum into a debate.

In November, New Hampshire Debates, a group of 120 Democratic elected state lawmakers and other prominent Democrats in the Granite State, including top surrogates for Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley, held a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Concord to urge NH1 News to covert the Feb. 3 event into a debate.

"We would be thrilled to convert our forum into a debate. But ultimately it is up to the DNC. It’s not our call to make,” NH1 News Network Senior Vice President Robb Atkinson said Wednesday.

Both Sanders and O’Malley have committed to taking part in the forum. The Clinton campaign has been invited to the event but has yet to commit to the forum.

In November, the DNC told NH1 News that they were encouraging more forums.

“We value the wide range of perspectives in the Democratic Party. We will continue to build on the forum schedule," said DNC communications director Luis Miranda. "We’re confident between those and living room visits, town halls and county fairs in states like New Hampshire, our candidates will have ample opportunity to engage with voters."

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