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Democrats set first presidential debates for this summer, expecting big field

Democrats may need to use their rules to limit debate to 20 candidates.

With the prospect of a huge free-for-all, the Democratic National Committee is setting its first two Democratic presidential debates for this summer with the prospect of splitting the events into two panels, to face questions on consecutive nights.

The DNC announced its first two Democratic presidential debates will be in June hosted by NBC and its affiliated networks including Telemundo; and in July hosted by CNN and its affiliated networks including CNN en Español.

The debates would be in prime time though exact dates, times and locations are yet to be announced.

The DNC is preparing for a big field, big enough that the party is writing rules to restrict participation to the top 20 candidates only. Twenty. That would be a record field for modern times, beyond even the 16 major candidates who made at least semi-serious bids for the last Republican nomination starting in 2015.

“As Chair of the DNC, I am committed to running an open and transparent primary process. To that end, we’ve spent months working with media partners to provide this unprecedented opportunity for candidates and voters to get to know each other,” DNC Chair Tom Perez stated in a news release. “Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before.”

Perez pledged a dozen debates during this presidential primary cycle.

It’s beginning to look like the Democrats may need to use their rules to limit debate t0 20 candidates. Among those already declared or running exploratory campaigns: U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; former U.S. Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Julian Castro of Texas; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and businessmen Hart Cunningham of California, and Andrew Yang of New York;

Among those acknowledging they are thinking about it or at least sending out signals: former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware; U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bernie Sanders of Vermont; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The DNC rules to determine who sits and who watches in the debates involve each candidates’ positions in a number of polls; numbers of unique campaign contributors; and the numbers of states from which the candidates top threshholds of unique campaign contributors.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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