For the better part of his campaign, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has been pushing for more debates to close the gap against his rival Hillary Clinton. But now that the The New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC have scheduled an additional debate ahead of the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders holds a considerable lead, his campaign is not interested.
The Democratic National Committee has “said this will be an unsanctioned debate, so we would not want to jeopardize our ability to participate in future debates,” Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told The New York Times.
Weaver also believes recent shifts in how the two leading candidates stack up inspired the last-minute event. “From the beginning of this campaign senator Sanders has called for more debates,” he said in a statement released by the campaign. “Secretary Clinton has not. Now she is asking to change the rules to schedule a debate next week that is not sanctioned by the DNC. Why is that? The answer is obvious. The dynamics of the race have changed and Sen. Sanders has significant momentum.”
In that respect, Sanders finds himself in a similar situation to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who opted out of a Fox News debate just days before voting in Iowa. Sanders has a double-digit lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, which borders his home state of Vermont, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, though he trails nationwide.
Sanders subsequently agreed to take part in the Union Leader/MSNBC debate, but only if it receives DNC sanction. A statement released by DNC chair, Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, indicates that’s not likely to happen: “We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule.”
All three candidates are pushing the DNC to reconsider. “Anybody that has been following this knows that the people of New Hampshire pushed for this debate,” said John Bivona, spokesman for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, according to the Union Leader. “They care about having a debate between Iowa and New Hampshire and rightfully so.”