CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley in an exclusive interview Wednesday with The Hill accused party insiders of trying to tilt the primary contest in Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonNew DNC chair Perez will attend Trump's speech as former rival's guest Dem questions FBI chief's commitment to Russia review Issa backs special prosecutor on Russia if justified MORE's favor.
O’Malley lit into the Democratic Party for seeking to limit the number of presidential debates, which he said would help Clinton glide to the nomination.
“There's an effort by a few insiders to try to limit the number of debates that we have and I've shared with the chair — Debbie Wasserman Schultz — that I think that’s a grave mistake and I think it's undemocratic,” O'Malley told The Hill in between in-between campaign stops in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
“It's all about trying to pre-ordain the outcome, circle the wagons and close off debate,” O'Malley said. “If they could actually accelerate the date of the Iowa caucuses and hold them tomorrow — they'd like to do that. Then there'd be no campaign at all. That's what they'd really like.”
Asked if the party insiders included the Clintons, O'Malley said: “Of course they are. President and Secretary Clinton are the most colossal, prolific fundraising couple in the history of representative democracies.”
An aide then reminded O'Malley that he was on the record.
“I know,” O'Malley answered, before continuing. “So yes — lots of people have long histories with the Clintons.”
O’Malley said he told Wasserman Schultz of his concerns.
“I told her that I didn't feel that the party was listening to our concerns and I told her that limiting the number of debates before the first contest would be a grave mistake,” he said. “The people have a right to hear what the candidates stand for. We need to have a debate.”
DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman said in a statement that DNC officials are “thrilled to hear that Governor O’Malley is eager to participate in our debates.”
“We believe that six debates will give plenty of opportunity for the candidates to be seen side-by-side,” Shulman said. “I’m sure there will be lots of other forums for the candidates to make their case to voters, and that they will make the most out of every opportunity.”
In the 2012 presidential cycle, Republicans held more than a dozen debates. In the aftermath of GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama, some argued that the series of debates had hurt Romney. The GOP is having fewer debates this year, and Democrats are limiting their debates to a half-dozen.
O'Malley has struggled to gain traction in the polls, despite campaigning in Iowa more than any of the other Democratic candidates.
His campaign has largely been eclipsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has drawn large crowds and surged this summer.
O'Malley has hovered around 3 percent of support among Democratic candidates — far behind Clinton and Sanders.
His supporters are adamant that he is preparing for a later surge closer to the actual Iowa caucus early next year, and suggest that O'Malley is a more electable progressive alternative to Sanders.
His comments on Wednesday also reflected his belief that the debates with Clinton, Sanders and other candidates could help his campaign.
“This isn't about the Clintons or the O'Malleys — this is about our country,” said O’Malley, who noted that he backed Clinton for president in 2008.
“And to limit the number of debates in the Democratic Party in a year as important as this? To tell Iowa that they can only have one? Or to tell New Hampshire they can only have one? I don't know where these people — it's the arrogance and the elitism that's creeped into so many aspects of our national party.”
He said that such leadership in Washington “has people very angry and very fed up and wondering if anybody's still on their side.”
“Of all the years we should be having a debate — this is the year they want to exercise their control and try to make the presidential debate some sort of exclusive where we're only aloud to have a handful of them. We had already had six of them, I think by this time last time around.”
During a campaign stop later Wednesday afternoon, O'Malley was more measured in his criticism against party leaders regarding the debates and Clinton, saying that he has a “great deal of respect and admiration” for the former secretary of State.
O'Malley also ripped Clinton, the front-runner for her party’s nomination, for not taking clear positions on the issues —and suggested that could cost her.
“Her positions and her lack of positions are becoming very apparent to more and more people across Iowa and New Hampshire,” O'Malley said. “People will not long tolerate any candidate who tries to duck or avoid debates or fails to take a position. I know that, for my part, I'm not going to duck.”