Dem's Primary Debates Come Early and Often This Year

Jun 25, 2019

It’s not just the winter holiday season that seems to come earlier and earlier.  Now it’s that American electoral exercise, known as primary season.  This time is different.

Never before has there been a field this large of presidential wannabees. This part of the election cycle used to be called, the invisible primary stage, before things really got underway in January.

"But the invisible primary is becoming visible,” says Caitlin Jewitt, who teaches political science at Virginia Tech. Normally, she points out, it’s the media that sets the dates and rules for debates.  This time, the Democratic party has stepped in.

“This is the Democratic party saying  'what happened in 2016 what did not go well, what were the critiques against us, and let’s react to that and fix it for 2020.' The Democratic party in 2016 was also criticized for not having very many debates between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Supporters of Sanders’ were saying that didn’t allow him the opportunity to debate with Clinton.”

Jewitt points out that it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that a candidate seeking to become president of the United States must have political experience to win. Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 created a new path to the White house. Now, people who may have thought they didn’t have a shot, could run and might even win. 

“And then whoever the Democratic nominee is,  they'll have to go again President Trump,who is polarizing in that he has the support of the Republican base but is fairly unpopular among Independents and Democrats. This makes a Democratic candidate have a stronger chance going into November, regardless of who that candidate is.” 

Jewitt recently published a comprehensive book on the nominating process called “The Primary Rules.” And here’s one that’s been used only once in recent history:  At the Democratic National Convention in 1968, it wasn’t the primaries that determined who the nominee would be, it was the Democratic delegates in what’s known as a brokered convention. Those primary rules for Democrats are still in place, so could that happen again?

“Sure, at the national convention the Democratic delegates could decide who the nominee would be. Many states bind their delegates for the first ballot at the national convention. But if the first ballot does not result in a majority, those Democratic delegates can vote for any candidate. Even one that does not compete in the primaries.”  

That’s what happened to Hubert Humphrey. He ultimately lost the general election to Richard Nixon, the Republican Party nominee.

Beginning this week, the Democratic party will host a total of 12 debates before primaries and caucuses get underway in February. After this week’s debate, the threshold for entry will double. Candidates will have to have raised at least 130,000 dollars from a minimum of 130,000 unique donors before Aug. 28th and have poll numbers over 4%.