CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Democrats would hold a presidential debate next week in New Hampshire before the state’s first-in-the-nation primary and three more in the spring under a tentative deal reached Saturday between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns.
Both camps said the agreement was not final and that the Democratic National Committee had yet to sign off on the deal, which remained under negotiation. In testy statements, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns publicly aired their demands for site locations, underscoring tensions between the two sides in the days before Monday’s leadoff Iowa caucuses.
Both campaigns have competing interests in adding debates. Clinton trails Sanders in New Hampshire and wants the proposed debate next Thursday to help her reach undecided voters before the state’s primary on Feb. 9. Sanders hopes to extend the primary season deep into the spring and adding three more forums might help him accomplish that goal.
The DNC did not immediately comment on the tentative agreement, first reported by BuzzFeed.
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In recent days, Clinton has urged the party to add the televised forums, and Sanders has been willing to appear at the proposed debate next week in exchange for three more in the spring. Clinton’s campaign requested that one of the additional debates be held in Flint, Michigan, which has been dealing with a crisis involving lead contamination in the city’s water supply.
But Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement that the Clinton campaign had not accepted debates his team proposed for March 3 in Michigan and April 14 in New York. He said they “apparently agreed” to May 24 in California.
He said that Sanders would be pleased to debate Clinton in Flint, Michigan, before the Michigan primary as long as Clinton will agree to one in Brooklyn, New York, on April 14. Clinton’s campaign headquarters are in Brooklyn.
“Why won’t they debate in Brooklyn? What’s the matter with Brooklyn?” he said.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta responded that there is “nothing worse than a debate about debates” and said the Sanders campaign’s demands had been met.
“Now they refuse to take yes for an answer, apparently because they are intent on avoiding a debate in New Hampshire. Enough of the games,” he said, adding that Clinton was prepared to show up for the debate on Thursday and the three additional ones later this spring.
Already scheduled are debates in Wisconsin on Feb. 11 and Florida on March 9.
Campaign officials said the three spring debates would come in late March, April and May.
Clinton and Sanders are in a tight race before the caucuses, and Clinton trails the Vermont senator in New Hampshire, raising the possibility that the Democratic front-runner could lose the first two contests. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the third candidate, has trailed them by wide margins.
At a stop Saturday in Des Moines, Clinton thanked supporters for agreeing to caucus for her and said she hoped “to persuade some more of you because we’ve got to keep the progress going. We’ve got to support what President Obama has accomplished for our country.”
Sanders told supporters in Manchester that the election was likely a “toss-up” and would hinge on whether he could turn out working-class and young voters.
“We will win the caucus on Monday night if there is a large voter turnout. We will lose the caucus on Monday night if there is a low voter turnout,” Sanders said.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/kthomasDC