The Republican National Committee announced Friday that it will sanction at least nine presidential primary debates, starting this August in Ohio and continuing through March 2016, with the potential to add three more.
The schedule, obtained first by POLITICO, was rolled out at the RNC’s winter meeting here.
A committee within the RNC and top staffers have been working for nearly a year on an effort to cut the number of debates roughly in half from the 20 held during the 2012 cycle. There have been high-level conversations between party leaders and executives at the nation’s broadcast and cable channels.
To give their push to control the debate process teeth, the party announced Friday that any candidate who participates in a debate that isn’t sanctioned by the RNC will not be allowed to participate in any more sanctioned debates. A question clouding the effort has been whether media organizations and cash-strapped candidates desperate for free airtime would go forward with unofficial debates, undercutting the whole process. But the stiffness of the penalty will probably deter such behavior.
One of the most interesting nuggets of the schedule is that no state gets more than one sanctioned debate. Last time, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida each hosted four debates. Iowa hosted three.
Steve Duprey, who chairs the RNC debate committee — and also happens to be New Hampshire’s representative to the committee — acknowledged pushback from leaders of the early states. But he said it’s worthwhile to improve the overall process.
“New Hampshire is not real thrilled, Iowa isn’t real thrilled, South Carolina isn’t real thrilled,” Duprey said. “But they’ll accept it.”
In addition to Ohio, this time there will be debates in California, Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada. Wisconsin is the home state of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, as well as Gov. Scott Walker, a likely presidential candidate.
A big part of the push is to include more conservative commentators and outlets in the process — often in partnership with mainstream media organizations to ensure a wider audience. These will be announced in the next couple of weeks.
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James Hohmann and Alex Isenstadt