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Call for Climate to Take Center Stage as DNC Announces 12 Primary Debates for 2020 White House Contest

"The greatest crisis of our time deserves more than a single question."

 Former rivals Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley stood onstage during the third Democratic presidential debate on Dec. 19, 2015.

Former rivals Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley stood onstage during the third Democratic presidential debate on Dec. 19, 2015. (Photo: Disney-ABC Television/flickr/cc)

Addressing a demand that emerged in the 2016 season, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said Thursday that there would be a dozen presidential primary debates for the 2020 contest.

"We will likely have a large field of candidates," DNC chair Tom Perez said on a call with reporters. "Accommodating a large field of such qualified candidates is a first-class challenge to have."  

Six debates are scheduled to take place in 2019 and six debates in 2020. The first will be held in June 2019, and the last in April 2020, said Perez, arguing the change was part of an effort to provide greater transparency and elevate the voices of grassroots supporters. In the 2016 presidential primary, in contrast, the party had officially sanctioned only six debates, though it later increased the number to nine.

Perez announced the change on Twitter, and in an op-ed published Thursday at USA Today, Perez wrote that "over the course of more than 100 hours of conversation, we've listened to and learned from a diverse slate of stakeholders who have participated in past Democratic primary debates. Their feedback is the basis for the plan we've developed."

According to 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn, the sole focus of one of those debates should be "the greatest crisis of our time."  He tweeted:

Perez added in his op-ed:

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We also want to ensure a level playing field for each candidate. To that end, if necessary, the first two debates will be split into consecutive nights. Participating candidates will be chosen by random selection, which will be done publicly. This will allow candidates to make their case without starting at a disadvantage.

And unlike in previous cycles, we won't just focus on polling to determine which candidates get a spot in the first two debates. We'll also be taking into account other measures such as grassroots fundraising.

Perez didn't lay out specifics about what sort of grassroots funding threshold would need to be met. Ahead of the official announcement, however, CNN reporter David Wright offered a glimpse of how possible Democratic contenders are faring in terms of amassing small-donor contributions:

Earliar this week, following results of his organization's poll about the 2020 presidential election, Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain said, "Unlike 2016, no candidate has support strong enough for the Democratic Party establishment to clear the field, which means progressives will have an excellent opportunity over the next year to kick the tires on a wide range of different candidates and find the best one to take on Trump."

"With a clear majority of the top five candidates being champions of Medicare for All," Chamberlain continued, "these results illustrate that Americans are eager for bold, progressive candidates who will fight for the multiracial inclusive populism America needs in 2020 and beyond."

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