Democrats announce 6 debates; Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff to moderate final

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee unveiled plans on Thursday to hold six presidential debates starting this fall, with the first scheduled for Oct. 13 in Nevada.

With Republicans focusing on their first debate, scheduled for Thursday night in Cleveland, Democrats released plans for their own far less crowded primary process.

So far, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee are scheduled to participate in the officially sanctioned forums.

Vice President Joe Biden’s staff has been kept informed about the scheduling but has not committed to attending, according to Democrats involved with the process who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Recent conversations between Biden associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Biden will challenge Clinton, though he has not announced a decision to his staff or said publicly whether he plans to run.

Four debates are scheduled in early primary states before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, a decision that has prompted complaints from the candidates challenging Clinton for the nomination. Dates for the final two gatherings, planned for Wisconsin and Miami, have not been set, but the committee said they will be held in February or March. Other forums will be held in Charleston, South Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; and Manchester, New Hampshire.

The schedule is:

      Oct. 13, CNN, Nevada

      Nov. 14, CBS/KCCI/Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Iowa

      Dec. 19, ABC/WMUR, Manchester, N.H.

      Jan. 17, NBC/Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Charleston, S.C.

      February or March, Univision/Washington Post, Miami, Fla.

      February or March, PBS, Wisconsin

    The final debate will be moderated by PBS NewsHour co-anchors and managing editors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.

    Unlike Republicans, who face criticism after allowing only 10 candidates onstage for Thursday’s prime-time debate, the Democratic forums will be far less crowded affairs.

    Clinton’s team said she is looking forward to participating in the debates this fall.

    “She prides herself in doing very well in debates,” said her chief strategist Joel Benenson. “It’s a good opportunity to get attention on issues that are front and center in the lives of Americans.”

    Clinton certainly has practice on a debate stage: In 2008, she participated in 19 face-offs with then Illinois Senator Barack Obama. By this point in the primary calendar, there had already been four debates — in part a result of candidates announcing their campaigns earlier in the year.

    Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Manchester, New Hampshire.