It’s only a few weeks until the next round of Democratic debates, but the deadline for qualifying is tomorrow. As FiveThirtyEight is reporting, there are ten candidates who have qualified, with a couple more on the bubble. Quite a few of them are simply not going to make it. But the big question at ABC News (the hosts of the event) is whether the debates will run for one or two nights.
One or two nights — that is the overriding question for the third Democratic primary debate, which is scheduled for Sept. 12 and, possibly, Sept. 13. As of Monday afternoon, exactly 10 presidential contenders have qualified to participate, and if that number stands, all 10 will be on stage at the same time and the debate will be confined to a single night. But if more than 10 candidates make it by Wednesday’s deadline, the hosts — ABC News and Univision, in partnership with the Democratic National Committee — plan to have two nights of debate, conducting a random draw this Thursday to determine each night’s lineup.
Let’s get to the title question right off the bat. Even if nobody else qualifies by tomorrow night, why would you limit the debate to a single night on September 12th? You’ve obviously got the slot set aside for a second night on the 13th anyway and it’s probably going to be a solid ratings performer. Why not take advantage of that?
To put this in context, ask yourself what the biggest complaint was, both from candidates and pundits, about the last round of debates. The answer is that they didn’t have enough time with ten people on the stage. Their answers wound up being clipped soundbites designed to spark some outrage the next day and draw attention. There was almost no substantive discussion of policy questions. And some of the more aggressive candidates took more time than others so a few of them wound up only having five minutes or less to speak over the course of the entire two hours.
If you run the debates for two nights with only five (or possibly six) candidates on stage, you can lengthen the time that each one gets for questions. You should be able to double the amount of time that each person receives to speak, or at least very nearly double it. How is this an undesirable outcome for you, the candidates or the viewers?
At this point, every one of the people who have qualified should privately be hoping that one more of their competitors makes the cut by tomorrow. But even if they don’t, ABC should be using both nights anyway. There is literally no reason I can imagine why they wouldn’t do this.