O'Malley: Party 'facilitating a coronation'
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Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is lashing out at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for scheduling only six debates, accusing the party of “facilitating a coronation” for front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE.

In a statement released moments after the DNC announced Thursday it would hold six debates spanning from October to March, O’Malley ripped the national party.

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“By inserting themselves into the debate process, the DNC has ironically made it less democratic,” he said. “The schedule they have proposed does not give voters — nationally, and especially in early states — ample opportunity to hear from the Democratic candidates for President. If anything, it seems geared toward limiting debate and facilitating a coronation, not promoting a robust debate and primary process.”

The former Maryland governor, who barely registers in national polls and has struggled to gain traction in the race, said the debate schedule gives the impression that the DNC is “rigging the process and cutting off debate.”

“They should let individual and truly independent news, political, and community organizations create their own debates and allow the Democratic candidates for President to participate,” he said. “There is a long, proud tradition of voters in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire getting to hear early and often from candidates for President — the DNC schedule kills that tradition, and we shouldn’t stand for it.”

State directors for the O’Malley campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire will hold a conference call with reporters later today highlighting the dispute.

Team O’Malley notes that in 2008, Democrats held two debates in Iowa in the weeks leading up to the caucuses, whereas this time around, there will be only one debate, held months before the first ballots are cast.

The O’Malley campaign immediately began fundraising off the dispute. Chief Strategist Bill Hyers sent an email to supporters describing the schedule as “one of the slimmest that I have ever seen.”

“The DNC has no place determining how many times voters in early states can hear from Presidential candidates, and what's ironic is that their schedule has made this process much less democratic,” Hyers wrote. “They've tried this before and failed — but this year, they’re threatening to ban candidates who participate in ‘unsanctioned’ debates from participating in any other debates. This isn't how democracy works. So let’s tell them we're fed up.”

At this point in the 2008 presidential cycle, Democrats had already held five debates, although the candidates got a late start in launching their presidential bids this time around.

Clinton is the early favorite, with backing from nearly the entirety of the Democratic establishment.

Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHillicon Valley: New York says goodbye to Amazon's HQ2 | AOC reacts: 'Anything is possible' | FTC pushes for record Facebook fine | Cyber threats to utilities on the rise O’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation Amazon to pay Bernie Sanders in federal income taxes: report MORE (I) has risen as a liberal threat to Clinton, closing the gap in Iowa and New Hampshire, but still trailing badly in national polls.

Many believe Vice President Biden could shake up the race and pull establishment support from Clinton if he gets in, but that appears to be a 50-50 prospect at this point.

Candidates like O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee need all the exposure they can get, and debates are the best way to get that.

A spokesperson for the DNC said the six debates “will give plenty of opportunity for the candidates to be seen side-by-side.”

“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,” DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman said.