MSNBC And New Hampshire Union Leader Plan Rogue Democratic Debate

But so far only O'Malley's definitely coming.
Another Democratic debate could be held next week. 
Another Democratic debate could be held next week. 

NEW YORK -- The New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC are planning to host an "unsanctioned" Democratic debate on Feb. 4, just five days before the state's primary. 

The proposed event, which is to be moderated by "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, threatens the Democratic National Committee’s power over the debate schedule.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign indicated Tuesday that its candidate would participate.

"Today is a big victory not only for our campaign and our supporters that championed this effort, but it is also a victory for voters across New Hampshire and the United States," John Bivona, O'Malley's New Hampshire state director, said in a statement.  

O'Malley, whose poll numbers remain in the single digits, would presumably gain the most from a nationally televised debate. 

“Hillary Clinton would be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement. 

A Sanders spokesman did not comment specifically on the proposed Feb. 4 debate, but said in an email the campaign "will be working with the DNC and the other campaigns to schedule additional debates."

In a statement, DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said the committee has “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.”

The DNC scheduled six debates this election cycle, with just four taking place before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries -- and three of those occurring on weekends. The most recent debate was held Jan. 17, with another not slated until after New Hampshire voters go to the polls on Feb. 9. 

BuzzFeed first reported news of the upcoming debate, and the Union Leader confirmed its plans in an article on its site. In the article, Union Leader president and publisher Joseph W. McQuaid said this cycle would have been the "first time in 32 years without a Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary.”

McQuaid told The Huffington Post that he "can’t imagine that the Democratic candidates, post-Iowa, would want to be seen as breaking with a New Hampshire tradition."

Union Leader Executive Editor Trent Spiner said in a separate email that there "has been a true groundswell for another debate in New Hampshire."

"It’s not just readers and local politicos," Spiner wrote. "I’ve been stopped at the grocery store by undecided voters who say they’re just starting to pay attention now. We feel it is our duty to provide Granite Staters with the information they need before they head to the polls."

The DNC, like its counterparts at the Republican National Committee, took a firmer hand this cycle over the debate process and threatened to exclude candidates who take part in so-called “unsanctioned” debates from participating in those officially scheduled -- two of which still remain. Candidates are permitted to participate in forums or town halls, like CNN’s Monday night, in which they don’t engage with one another onstage. 

Wasserman Schultz has long defended the party's debate schedule, which has faced criticism from the Sanders and O'Malley campaigns, as well as from leaders such as vice chair and Hawaii Congressman Tulsi Gabbard.

Many have viewed the DNC's debate schedule as structured to benefit Clinton by offering few opportunities for rivals to gain national exposure and, perhaps, momentum against the party's front-runner. However, some Clinton advisers have recently expressed regret that there weren't more debates scheduled as Sanders presents a serious challenge to Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This article has been updated with comments from Clinton, Sanders and Wasserman Schultz.

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