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Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley say Democratic debates are ‘rigged’ for Hillary Clinton

'This is totally unprecedented in our party’s history.'


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Aug 29, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 1:51 am CDT

The whole process is rigged.

That’s the message from Hillary Clinton‘s top Democratic rivals in the 2016 race, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

The Democrats chose to have just six debates among candidates, half of the 12 debates that Republicans will be holding over the next year as voters choose who they’ll vote for in primaries.

The Democrats’ decision is widely thought to help Clinton, the big-name frontrunner, and hurt her rivals. While she is already ubiquitously known to the American public, Sanders and O’Malley are seeking more opportunities to challenge her ideas in places the public will see, like debates.

“This is totally unprecedented in our party’s history,” O’Malley said on Friday. “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before. Whose decree is it exactly? Where did it come from? To what end? For what purpose? What national or party interest does this decree serve? How does this help us tell the story of the last eight years of Democratic progress?”

Clinton currently leads the 2016 Democrats in polls on average with 47 points to Sanders’ 26. O’Malley weighs in at 1.5 points. 

Clinton’s lead has shrunk significantly in the last two months but she still nearly doubles Sanders’ numbers.

While her Democratic rivals spoke about the debates, Clinton spoke mostly about Trump and the Republicans she’s expected to face in the general election next year.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Holly Shulman released a statement defending the six debates.

“We are thrilled the candidates are so eager to participate in our debates,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “We believe that six debates will give plenty of opportunity for the candidates to be seen side-by-side. I’m sure there will be lots of other forums for the candidates to make their case to voters, and that they will make the most out of every opportunity.”

Clinton herself hasn’t publicly addressed the debate schedule. When asked if he agreed with O’Malley’s idea that the debate structure is “rigged” for Clinton, Sanders responded, “I do.”

Earlier in August, Sanders spoke at length on the issue.

“At a time when many Americans are demoralized about politics and have given up on the political process, I think it’s imperative that we have as many debates as possible,” Sanders argued. “I look forward to working with the DNC to see if we can significantly expand the proposed debate schedule.”

Correction: This article previously stated that Democrats will have four debates. It’s actually six. 

H/T The Hill | Photo via Alan C./Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Aug 29, 2015, 1:38 pm CDT