NDN Blog

Monday Musings on the 2016 Political Landscape

Monday, October 12th - here we go:

The Rise of the Reactionaries - What a week. The GOP repudiation of its establishment – something evident in the Presidential – has gone to a whole new level now. This dynamic may be the most important early dynamic in the 2016 cycle so far. And with all sorts of important work to do in Congress – a budget, debt ceiling, TPP, Ex-Im, transportation/infrastructure, the Middle East, immigration reform – there isn’t going to be a honeymoon for the new Speaker and House GOP leadership team. Be sure to read my long form magazine piece on what is driving the rise of reactionary politics inside the GOP.

Polling – No significant shifts this week. Trump and Carson still stand atop the GOP field, with Bush showing continued weakness and everyone else fighting to get in the game. On the Dem side, the story remains Bernie Sanders’ very strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire and his ability to match Clinton on money. Clinton still holds a strong national lead among Democrats and has established what some consider a firewall in South Carolina and Nevada. While I am not a big believer in political firewalls, her strength and Sander’s weakness in these late February states is meaningful.

The Democrats Debate – The 1st Democratic debate is tomorrow, Tuesday October 13th on CNN at 9pm. Be sure to watch and encourage everyone you know to do so too. Clearly will be a big moment in the campaign.  I offered some thoughts on how the Democrats can improve their debate schedule and close the gap with the GOP in a new op-ed here. Also recommend this new piece from Greg Sargent on why it is time for the Vice President to make his decision.

HRC and TPP – At this point, I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s opposition to TPP will make a big difference in what is likely to be a spring vote. The Dems who supported TPA are likely to hold, though her opposition may make it harder for the President to pick up support in his own party. The real question now is how the new anti-establishment dynamic affects the GOP and their ability to work with the President in a Presidential election year.

Going to be a remarkable political year ahead! 

Getting to Yes on TPP

The five year long effort to update and modernize the global trading system through the innovative Trans-Pacific Partnership took a giant step forward on Monday with the announcement of a final deal. This was a huge accomplishment for the Obama Administration and USTR Mike Froman. Now comes debate over the terms of the deal in the 12 countries, including our own. Our assumption is that the vote in the US will come in the spring of 2016, giving the American people and its leaders six full months to debate the deal. We will be gearing up for what will no doubt be a contentious but meaningful debate - saddle up NDNers! For more from us, see this new TPP "Backgrounder" we've put together, and for a deeper dive you can see me on what was a terrific panel discussion on Wednesday at the Washington International Trade Association. Of note in that package is the two polling presentations - well worth a review.

On Dem debates: progress, but more to do - 3 steps the DNC should take next

So, give credit where credit is due. This week the DNC took a few important steps to close the gap with the superior RNC debate schedule:

- First, it began letting people the debates, including the first one this Tuesday October 13th, was coming. The overall promotion is still far less than what is appropriate given how central these debates are to the DNC this election cycle but it is a start. Asking all Democrats to watch the upcoming debates, making the watching of these debates central to what it means to be a Democrats and driving viewership to these debates should become the primary mission of the DNC over the six months. As I’ve written elsewhere, the RNC simply built a far better and smarter debate schedule, and the DNC has to become obsessed with closing the gap. Using the immense database of the DNC and all the other tools at its disposal to drive viewership to the debates has to become far more important than it is. 

- Second, the strategy behind the newly announced dates for the 5th and 6th debates is good. They both take place during the week (unlike debates 2-4 which are on the weekends) when viewership is much higher, and they in that magic window between Feb 1 and Mar 15th when almost 60% of all eligible voters will vote.

So while there is some good news here, the DNC still needs to do more. Even with the improved DNC plan, the RNC’s superior debate schedule (more debates, more weekdays, better media partners, closer to the actual voting when more people are paying attention) guarantees them hundreds of millions of additional impressions over the life of the debates. This gap is so huge and so consequential that the DNC must do more to attempt to close it. In previous op-eds on MSNBC and in Time, I have suggested possible changes to the current DNC strategy, but whatever the DNC does to do to try to close the gap there are three things it must do in the coming weeks

Move the New Hampshire debate - This all important debate has been scheduled for December 19th, the Saturday night before Christmas. Simply this may be the single worst weekend of the entire year to schedule a debate if the goal is to get viewers. So the debate should be moved either to early December or early to Mid January. There are plenty of open weekends in that window, but of course it would be best to find a night during the week to gain maximum audience

Add another debate in late February, early March - Almost 60% of eligible voters will vote in the February 1 through March 15th window, with 21 states voting in the first two weeks of March alone. This two week crush will involve far more states and media markets than the general election will, and no candidate, no matter how much money they have, will be able to run an immersive paid and free media effort in these 21 states at the same time. So what this means is that for many of those voters the only real contact they will have with the campaign is through a debate. Understanding this, the RNC has schedule 4 and perhaps 5 English language debates during this magic window. The DNC has only one, February 11th in Wisconsin. Ideally the DNC should add 2-3 more during this window to match the RNC, but at this point adding one more in a large state like Ohio is a must at this point. The current approach is not providing enough information to Democratic voters to make up their minds, and will also certainly guarantee very low turnouts and lost party building opportunities in these critical states.

Be Open to More Debates - The rigid defense of an insufficient debate schedule hasn’t really made a lot of sense given how many important party leaders and leading Presidential candidates have suggested that the DNC makes improvements. But where the schedule is most indefensible is in the insistence only six debates with the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 states will have voted. The primaries are scheduled to go through June, and in 2008 Clinton did not concede until early June. In addition to adding a debate in late February or early March, the DNC should say, publically, that they are open to more debates between March 15th and June if the nomination fight is still raging. The current schedule ensures there is no English language debate when 98% of the country is voting. We can do better.

A few additional points:

Be creative, engage Millennials – There are lot of other ways to reach voters than the traditional debate approach with old fashioned media partners. Innovative ways of the candidates reaching voters should be explored with newer media outlets like Yahoo News, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, Huffington Post, Twitter, Buzzfeed and even services like Twitch. Garnering strong support from the Millennial generation – the largest generation in history - is arguably the Democrat’s highest strategic priority this cycle and more must be done to engage Millennials this cycle.

Use the DNC database and website – One thing the DNC should do immediately is announce that they are going to live stream every major candidate appearance by all the candidates including Larry Lessig for the remainder of the cycle. Every forum like the New Hampshire Democratic Party annual event a few weeks ago should be live streamed, recorded, put on you tube and promoted through the vast and powerful DNC database and social media assets. The DNC could use young and interesting party leaders like Tulsi Gabbard, the Castro brothers,Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gavin Newsom. Joe Kennedy, Cory Booker or some of this cycle’s terrific Senate and House candidates to “host” these events, garnering exposure to a next generation of thoughtful leaders who could use far more national exposure. Short packaged 60 or 90 second videos, designed for younger more digitally inclined viewers could be created. If done right, these events will garner far more viewers and impressions than Saturday afternoon candidate forums on cable news networks.

The bottom line:

The RNC has produced a far better approach to showcase their candidates than the DNC has this cycle. The good news is that there is time for the DNC to take steps to close that gap. Some of the steps required have to do with the debate schedule, but the Committee could also become far more creative in finding other ways to bring its candidates and emerging leaders to the public. The very small and relatively old Democratic field, coupled with an inadequate debate schedule, means that the Party is not sufficiently building the public profile of an emerging generation of leaders, as the Republicans are this cycle, and often happens in a Presidential nomination fight. The DNC should do more to acknowledge this strategic challenge and take create, aggressive steps to ameliorate it, starting with some of the suggestions I’ve spelled out here. Failure to do so will not only hurt the Democrats in 2016, but could also do harm to the party for years to come.

President Obama On TPP

Following the completion of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama released this statement: 


Office of the Press Secretary


October 5, 2015

Statement by the President on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

 I've spent every day of my presidency fighting to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class. That means making sure our workers have a fair shot to get ahead here at home, and a fair chance to compete around the world. My approach to trade has been guided by a unifying principle: leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses, so we can export more products stamped Made in America all over the world that support higher-paying American jobs here at home.

Over the summer, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to help the United States negotiate agreements for free and fair trade that would support our workers, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.

That’s what the agreement reached today in Atlanta will do. Trade ministers from the 12 nations that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership finished negotiations on an agreement that reflects America’s values and gives our workers the fair shot at success they deserve.  

This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products. It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements. It promotes a free and open Internet. It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.

Once negotiators have finalized the text of this partnership, Congress and the American people will have months to read every word before I sign it. I look forward to working with lawmakers from both parties as they consider this agreement. If we can get this agreement to my desk, then we can help our businesses sell more Made in America goods and services around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win.


Monday Musings on 2016

In this new feature, I offer my weekly thoughts on the 2016 race. To see previous entries, click the "Monday Musings" tag. 

- The 1st Democratic debate is eight days away, Tuesday night October 13th. Will be a big night for all the candidates, and an important moment in the 2016 campaign. The biggest news heading into next week is the strength of Bernie Sanders. He is leading in NH and in some polls in IA, and is now competitive with Hillary Clinton on resources. As I said in this recent Time magazine article, Democrats don’t do coronations, and it sure looks like the Democratic race has become competitive (even without the potential entry of Joe Biden). Important to acknowledge that the Clinton campaign has shown of late a degree of creativity and confidence, however, that has been in short supply over the past few months. That in of itself is a true sign the campaign is heating up!

- The GOP field seems to be winnowing now, with Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush and Cruz still in the hunt. Not sure there is room left for the rest. It is growing increasingly unlikely that the GOP will nominate a traditional, establishment candidate. As we are also seeing in the leadership fight in the House, the energy now in the GOP is in rejecting the Bush era “establishment” GOP and ushering in a new and different GOP.

- The McCarthy “slip” has become another critical moment in the 2016 cycle. Kathleen Parker captures the sentiment many GOPers have about what happened, and how McCarthy is now, even if he wins, another in a long line of wannabe GOP leaders who just have not been able to play the game at the big league level.

Till next week!

Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico

I recently penned a major op-ed in the Hill, "Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico." The story appears today in both the print and digitial editions. You can find the digital version here or below. 

Getting serious about helping Puerto Rico
By Simon Rosenberg

Whatever the United States government does in the coming months to help Puerto Rico, it is important that policymakers act with a deep sense of urgency about the scale of the problem the island faces. The crisis is far more than a fiscal one. If working-age and young Puerto Ricans continue to leave the island at current rates, soon the island will hit a demographic tipping point where the ratio of retiree to worker will make it nearly impossible to ever restore to a virtuous cycle of economic growth and prosperity. Simply put, we have to get it right this time or the future of Puerto Rico will be very bleak indeed.

Getting it right also means that policymakers in the United States will have to accept two inconvenient truths: The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens and deserve the same kind of attention the people on the mainland would receive, and our Congress has played a significant role in helping push Puerto Rico to the brink. There is little doubt that years of bad governance and fiscal management by both political parties in Puerto Rico are the central cause of today’s crisis. But as Washington readies to act, acknowledging that a series of decisions by the U.S. Congress — including the removal of a job-generating tax break a decade ago and inequitable treatment of Puerto Ricans across many U.S. government programs — have made matters worse. In practical terms, this means that the only way to truly address the crisis will be through deep, sustained coordination among the administration, Congress and political leaders of both parties on the island, as everyone will have to do their part, together.

Given the coming elections in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and rancorous politics in both Washington and San Juan, how will this level of complicated political cooperation be established? I’ve come to believe that the only way forward will be through a package of joint Washington and San Juan led reforms that include establishing an inclusive federal financial control board akin to what was successfully implemented in New York and Washington, D.C. decades ago. 

For Puerto Ricans, the virtue of a federal financial control board are: 1) It has worked before; 2) despite a well-intentioned reform package from the Padilla administration, it is highly unlikely that the Congress and international financial markets will view any locally led, partisan-led reform effort to be credible; and 3) it binds the United States to the process, preventing it from walking away and not doing its part in restoring prosperity to the millions of American citizens on the island.

For Puerto Ricans wary of this level of federal involvement in their affairs, it is important to remember that here in Washington, D.C., the head of our control board became so politically popular that he was able to run, win and become a very successful mayor of our city. In this case, like is often the case, the very best politics is good governance. Local leaders in Puerto Rico will only be rewarded now through results, not empty posturing or overly cautious measures.

In exchange for San Juan accepting and participating in a federal financial control board, Washington should agree to:

Treat Puerto Ricans as Americans. Without diving into the clearly antiquated political status question of the island, what is simply true is that Puerto Ricans are American citizens and should be treated as such. Over the years, Congress has often treated the residents of Puerto Rico as second-class citizens, repeatedly legislating inequitable treatment and funding. These discrepancies should be addressed, and in programs including Medicare and Medicaid, parity should be restored. This is not just about equity. Taking these steps will provide a short-term fiscal stimulus, help stem the flow of healthcare professionals and other productive workers from the island and make an economic recovery far more likely.

Amend U.S. bankruptcy laws. The same laws that apply to U.S. states should apply to Puerto Rico. Congress should amend current U.S. bankruptcy law to allow San Juan to restructure its municipal and public corporate debt. This step would enable a rapid, orderly restructuring of almost all of Puerto Rico’s debt without taking on the general obligation debt — a risky step that could cause a legal, political and financial backlash strong enough to interfere with the implementation of the rest of the reform package.

Focus on sustained growth and prosperity. The U.S. government should begin a serious dialogue with the island’s political, economic and civil society leaders about its long-term economic future. Congress’s ending of the 936 tax credits for U.S. businesses investing on the island a decade ago stripped Puerto Rico of its primary economic development approach without offering an alternative. A new approach is needed, and as Rob Shaprio and I wrote recently, Puerto Rico should look to Ireland as its inspiration for crafting a 21st century economic strategy. Thirty years ago Ireland set out to become a low-cost manufacturing platform for multinationals seeking access to the vast European market. Puerto Rico, with its wonderful climate, extraordinary natural beauty and direct access to the North American (Canada, Mexico, U.S.) market, should adopt a similar approach to foreign multinationals looking to break into this region. With such a farsighted plan, Ireland was able to attract more than 1,000 multinationals over a 20-year period. The U.S. and Puerto Rico should study this model and build some of its premises into its coming fiscal reform plan.

The economic and fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico was many years in the making, and there is plenty of blame to go around in both Washington and San Juan for how we got here. But it is important now for the leaders in both capitals to realize the gravity of the situation and find a coordinated and respectful path forward that gives the millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico the future every American deserves.


"Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico," is the latest in a series of thought pieces NDN has written on the crisis. Feel free to review these other pieces, in both Spanish and English:


Monday Musings on 2016

I'm going to start a new weekly look at 2016 and the broader political environment.  Check back Monday mornings for this new feature from NDN - Simon

We are in the midst of an extraordinary political period here in Washington. The remarkable Papal visit, the end of Boehner, a Chinese state visit, Putin’s offensive, the UN today, a possible govt shutdown, and of course Bryce Harper getting strangled in the Nats dugout by a Phillies pitcher. Some observations on this big week:

- The GOP “establishment” that was formed through two Bush Presidencies and Boehner’s Speakership has lost its hold on power, perhaps for good. You see it in the Presidential race now w/the rise of Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz and even to some degree Rubio, and we see it now in the House. A new GOP is emerging now, and it is still too early to tell where it will go, but it is unlikely to be in more constructive direction than the current path. It is also increasingly hard to imagine how Jeb Bush survives in this new dynamic (and he has already moved into the second tier of the GOP field).

- The first Democratic debate is in two weeks, Tuesday October 13th. Given how much the two GOP debates affected their their field (Walker and Bush faded, Carly, Carson and Rubio gained) the Dem CNN debate is shaping up to a very consequential event in the 2016 campaign. Don’t make any plans that night!

- As I argued on this segment from the O’Reilly Factor on Friday night, it is time for the US to adopt a new strategy for Syria. Bringing about a political settlement, and fighting more effectively against ISIS appears to be the next big thing on the President’s plate. We will be watching for hints of a new strategy in the President’s UN speech this morning.

Till next week....

Job Opening at NDN (extended to 9/30), Big Thank You to Corey

So I write with good news, and less good news.

We have an opening for my assistant here at NDN. That’s the good news.

The less than good news is that Corey Cantor, my current assistant, will be moving on. It is our tradition here is to bring in an ambitious, smart young person to spend a year as my assistant, working closely with the entire NDN community. Unfortunately for all of us that year is coming up for Corey, and it is time for him to take what he has learned here and go out in the broader world here in DC. Recent assistants are doing really well out there – Anjani and Sam are at USTR, Andres is at Treasury, Jessie has become an important part of Mayor DeBlasio’s team, Chris is working as a legislative assistant in a House office.

Corey’s goal is to go into the Administration, join a Senate or House office, or work in some other policy-related capacity. He has been a terrific member of our team and would add value to any office he joins. If you have ideas for Corey, or want to interview him yourself, please contact him at ccantor@ndn.org. I have some plans for him as well and will be working hard to ensure he lands in a place where he can contribute and learn.

As for the assistant position, please help us find the very best person. See the job description below. Please send cover letter, resume, recommendations and anything else you would like to submit to Corey (ccantor@ndn.org) by 5pm on Wednesday, September 30th. No phone calls please.

Job Description: At NDN, the Assistant to the President is responsible for managing President Simon Rosenberg and the office’s day-to-day operations. This includes managing the President’s schedule; executing weekly emails including NDN’s newsletter, member updates, and other releases via NGP-Van; handling administrative tasks (such as event management, meeting arrangements, scanning documents, and other errands); researching legislation or other policy information for the President’s use. In this role, you will also work closely with other NDN members’ offices and Washington stakeholders. This position allows for growth as well as special projects assigned by the President. Additional responsibilities consist of handling office communications, including answering the main NDN phone-line, processing invoices, assisting with travel logistics, event coordination, and keeping track of written correspondence, and other duties as assigned.

So to sum up – we need your help in finding a new assistant for me, and a great next step for Corey. Anything you can do to help please let us know and thank you in advance. And please thank Corey for his excellent work here at NDN – he has done a great job for me, and for all of us.



New Op-ed in Time: "Democrats Are Playing a Dangerous Game With the Debate Schedule."

I wrote a new op-ed for Time on the Democratic debate schedule. You can find the full piece at their website or below:

Democrats Are Playing a Dangerous Game With the Debate Schedule.

Unlike the GOP, the Democrats are planning to power down their presence exactly as voters will tune in

The three leading Democratic candidates for President have called for more debates. So have party leaders across the country, including two of the five Vice-Chairs of the Democratic Party. So has the head of the AFL-CIO. So should the Democratic National Committee add more debates? All signs point to yes. Not only do the Republicans have more debates allowing them to reach more voters, but the 2016 primary calendar has bunched up so many states early next year that without a robust debate schedule few voters will be able to meaningful participate in the picking of the Democratic nominee.

Let’s look at this admittedly arcane subject in a bit more detail: As the chart demonstrates, the Republican Party has scheduled ten debates before the end of March of 2016. Most of these debates are in primetime during the week, and each is with a major commercial television news outlet. The first Fox debate proved these debates have the potential to reach tens of millions of people directly, without the candidates or parties spending a dime — a holy grail of political campaign strategy.

The Democrats, on the other, hand have only six debates scheduled in this period and only one in weekday primetime so far. Two of those are with PBS and Univision, limited television networks with smaller reach. Left unchecked, the superior RNC schedule could easily reach 50 to 100 million more eyeballs than the current Democratic schedule—meaning tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of lost opportunities to persuade, engage and excite the audiences all Democrats will need to win in 2016. But the cost is so far beyond dollars and minds: the debate schedule could affect who wins the Presidency, the Senate and scores of other races across the country.

When you look at the how the primary schedule is stacking up next year, the current Democratic Party strategy looks even harder to justify. As you can see, after the four early states vote – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — 21 more states with more than half of all Democratic primary voters will vote in the 14 days between March 1 and March 15. The scale and speed of this unprecedented compression of the primary calendar means that the only way most voters in these states are going to be able to touch and feel a candidate will be through paid advertising or free debates. Some of these states may not even see a single candidate visit during this short window, and thus are more reliant on debates for getting the information they need to make an informed decision.

Additionally, the compression of the calendar gives an enormous structural advantage to any candidate coming out of the four early states ahead. And if they are also well resourced, it could mean that the election will be for all intents and purposes decided in February of 2016, leaving tens of millions of Americans without the chance to participate in picking a nominee for their party. Having debates during this period is not only necessary given the sheer number of voters going to the polls, but to make sure the winning candidate has the informed consent of a sizable number of their partisans.

The RNC seems to understand all this, having scheduled six of their ten debates during this first quarter window, all with major television networks. The DNC, however, is taking a different approach, having proposed only three debates during this window. The first is on a Sunday night in January during a holiday weekend. The next two—so far without firm dates—are a Spanish language debate (only three of the 21 states have significant Spanish-speaking populations) and one with a far more limited television network (PBS) in a state (Wisconsin) that votes in April. It is conceivable that the Democrats will not have a single English language debate in this period from February 1 to March 15—when tens of millions will be paying attention and voting, and when many believe the nomination will be decided. The GOP already has three scheduled in this voting window, and depending on how their schedule firms up, could have as many as five.

At a time when half the country goes to vote the RNC is ramping up the pace of its debates, while the DNC is slowing its down. By limiting the total number of debate to six it also ensures that the half of the country which votes in the ten weeks after March 15th has little or no chance to hear directly from the candidates.

Simply put, there is no way to justify or defend this strategy. As currently constructed, too few people are going to be able to meaningfully participate in the picking of the nominee of the Democratic Party, something that is inconsistent with our Party’s approach to politics and a threat to the success of the party in the 2016 elections. As many as seven of the dozen or so battleground general election states will vote in this period. The loss of party building in those states is particularly dangerous for Democrats.

There are many ways to improve the current debate schedule but I would begin, as I’ve proposed elsewhere, with shooting for party parity in 2016. The DNC should match the RNC by adding three debates, with at least one coming between Feb. 1 and March 15. The proposed Univision and PBS debates should also be scheduled before March 15, with the Wisconsin debate moving to a March date in an important pre-March 15 state like Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Texas or Virginia. The DNC could also expand the pool of its media partners to include those with large progressive audiences, and important digital outlets like Facebook (which sponsored the first RNC debate), Instagram, Twitter and Yahoo who reach different audiences than traditional media.

Those calling for a better Democratic Party debate schedule are right. The current schedule, while well intentioned, can and should be improved. It will benefit all Democrats up and down the ticket, and ensure that more than a few million people participate meaningfully in picking the Democratic nominee. The compressed primary schedule next year makes the adding of more debates while so many states vote so quickly even more of a imperative.


"The Democratic debate schedule is a mess. Here's how to fix it" - New NDN op-ed on MSNBC

I penned a new op-ed for MSNBC.com on how to improve the 2016 Democratic debate schedule. You can read the full piece here and below. 

"The Democratic Debate Schedule Is A Mess.  Here is How to Fix It." 

The critics are right: If the point of presidential primary debates is to give candidates a forum to make their case to the tens of millions of people who will pick their party’s nominee, the current Democratic debate calendar is wholly insufficient to the task at hand. There are too few debates, too many are on weekends or holidays when viewership is much lower, and there aren’t enough close to when the most consequential voting will take place.

Before we get into the devilish details, it’s important to look at next’s year’s very front-loaded Democratic primary calendar: The four early states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina – vote in February, followed by 21 more states between March 1 and March 15. The result is that the Democratic nominee will be effectively locked in by mid-March, only six weeks after primary voting begins. It is potentially a very compressed calendar.

As of today, the Republicans have ten debates scheduled before mid-March, while the Democrats have four. Of those debates, the GOP has six debates scheduled in the ten weeks closest to the actual voting, while the Democrats have just one.

The only Democratic debate scheduled for Iowa is taking place 10 weeks before the caucuses, on a Saturday night, and the only New Hampshire debate is happening on the last Saturday before Christmas.
In 2016, the GOP will have debates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, and twice in South Carolina – all consequential states. The only debate the Democrats have scheduled currently in 2016 is on the Sunday night of the Martin Luther King Day weekend in South Carolina.

Rather than being close to the voting – when people are paying attention – the only Democratic debate scheduled for Iowa is taking place 10 weeks before the caucuses, on a Saturday night, and the only New Hampshire debate is happening on Dec. 19, the last Saturday before Christmas, when the last thing on anyone’s mind will be politics.

Of the eight debates the GOP has scheduled with actual firm dates, six are during the week when viewership is higher. Of the four Democratic debates with firm dates, only one is during the week. The rest are on the weekend, and two – the Iowa and South Carolina debates – are also during holiday weekends.

There are three ways the Democratic National Committee can improve the schedule:

- Move more of the existing debates to weeknights
- Add more debates in the key states prior to March 15
- Remove the limit on debates in case the nominating process goes beyond March 15.

The DNC should also try to get the 2015 debates in Iowa and New Hampshire moved to better days during the week, add Iowa, New Hampshire and one other debate to the early 2016 window, and lock in the proposed Florida and Wisconsin debates before March 15. If in February the election looks like it is going to go to late spring, more debates can be added. There’s no reason to have a cap, or to force candidates to agree to one.

In the digital age, engaging partisans early in the campaign cycle is critical to building an excited base of volunteers and small-dollar donors, such as buoyed both Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. The Democratic Party simply has no other tool as powerful as these debates to engage the millions of people needed to win elections in 2016 up and down the ticket in all fifty states. And this tool should be more aggressively deployed for the good of the whole party.

The last time Democrats had an open presidential race, the DNC held 19 debates, starting in April of 2007. The end result of that wide open process was a 53% victory in the general election by Obama and unprecedented levels of citizen engagement in our politics. That wide open and early system helped produce the best election result for the Democratic Party in 44 years, and should only have been significantly altered if there was a powerful rationale and argument from the party leadership. This is particularly true given the enormous policy commitment Democrats are making today to reforming our political and electoral systems to give more Americans a more meaningful voice in their democracy.

While the Democratic Party cannot replicate its 2007-2008 approach, it can improve the current one. As a lifelong Democrat, I am grateful that candidates Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have all asked the DNC to make changes to the current debate schedule. For the good of all Democrats across the country, let’s hope they get on with it in the days to come.


Update: You can also check out the current schedules for the Democratic and GOP debates here, as well the full 2016 primary calendar

Update, 9/10 -  In my piece I wrote there were 19 Democratic debates in 2007/8.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, there were 26.  And by this date in 2007 there already had been 9.  Again, given the resounding success of the Democratic Party's Presidential candidate in 2008, it remains hard to understand why the leadership of the DNC felt compelled to make such a dramatic alteration to what worked so well last time and is so consistent with the overall push by Democrats for openness and reform in our political system.  

Update, 9/10 - Last night two DNC Vice Chairs joined the call for more debates. 

Update, 9/10 - The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has published a smart take on all this.

Update, 9/16 - From Politico: "Hillary, DNC face pressure to add debates".

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