POLITICS

Democrats Heckle Party Chair With Calls For More Debates

"We want debates! We want debates!"

Party unity started to sound more like party mutiny during the Democratic state convention in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday. 

Attendees heckled the DNC chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chanting "We want debates!" until the Florida lawmaker eventually went off-script to respond.

"What's more important, drawing a contrast with Republicans, or arguing about debates?" Wasserman Schultz said. "Let's focus on our mission at hand. Let's focus on our task at hand."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is among the party members who think Democrats should hold more than the scheduled six primary debates, the first of which won't take place until October.

By contrast, the Republicans are already two debates into the more than 10 they have scheduled. Both events have dominated the ratings, the news cycle and, as some Democrats worry, voters' attention.

"The Republicans are getting all the press right now and we have more than one candidate," Jane Schirch, an undecided New Hampshire Democrat, told CNN. "We have more legitimate candidates than the entertainment that the Republicans are providing."

The New Hampshire convention protests put Wasserman Schultz once again on the defensive over the party's debate plan, which includes penalizing any candidate who participates in outside debates.

Speaking to CNN later that day, she further addressed criticism over the debate schedule, including accusations the party is limiting the number of face-offs to "stack the deck in favor of Hillary Clinton" or waiting to begin until October in order to give time for still-undeclared Vice President Joe Biden to jump in. 

"Debates are not the only way to get your message out to voters," Wasserman Schultz said. She noted that her DNC predecessors warned her against holding too many debates that could disrupt from candidates’ campaigning schedule.

"It was important to ensure the debate calendar doesn’t get out of control," she said.

Most of the candidates, for their part, welcome the idea of adding more debates. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) spokesman Michael Briggs said the senator "has made his position clear" that he believes there should be more debates.

"He believes more debates, including debates with Republicans, would generate more interest and excitement and boost voter turnout which in turn would help Democrats not only keep the White House but gain ground in Congress and Statehouses," Briggs said in an email. 

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley concurred.

"I think everybody in the party realizes that we should not let the Republican debates go unanswered," he said in an email sent through a campaign spokesman. "I said just now that we’ve now witnessed two Republican presidential debates and both of them have gone unanswered meanwhile 23 million, 24 million people tuned in to see their distortions about the President’s record. And their falsehoods and some pretty hateful rhetoric."

"We need to respond to that as a party," he continued. "The best way I believe, and it seemed like the vast majority of the members of the Democratic Party believe, is for us to have debates. Not to limit debates."

The DNC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

This post has been updated with comment from the O'Malley campaign.