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Granite State paper, grassroots organizers force Feb. 4 Democratic debate outside DNC

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Another televised Democratic presidential debate is now planned for New Hampshire next week, organized outside the usual coordination of such debates by the Democratic National Committee.

The Feb. 4 prime-time debate will be held five days before that state’s primary, and is expected to include all three Democratic candidates. Hosted by the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, the event will be broadcast on MSNBC and moderated by MSNBC personalities Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, the Union Leader announced Tuesday afternoon. Some details have not yet been announced, including the time.

There is no mention of the debate on the DNC’s website, which is advertising the next Democratic presidential debate as taking place in Milwaukee on Feb. 11. Nor do announcements on the debate mention the DNC.

That’s because the New Hampshire debate was organized outside the DNC, in part out of frustration that the DNC had not scheduled a debate in New Hampshire.

MSNBC referred inquiries to the Union Leader.

“Our readers have demanded a debate to help them see who is most fit to be the Democratic nominee for President,” Joseph W. McQuaid, president and publisher of the Union Leader, stated in a story published this afternoon on the paper’s website. “We were always concerned that this would have been the first time in 32 years without a Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary. We are glad to partner with MSNBC to ensure Granite Staters have the information they need to make a critical decision on Feb. 9.”

Invited were former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

O’Malley quickly accepted, and his campaign threw jabs at the DNC.

“In keeping with the best traditions of the New Hampshire Primary, we have always believed that the voters of the Granite State deserve more than one opportunity to see their candidates for President debate side by side,” the O’Malley campaign’s NH State Director John Bivona stated in a news release. “That’s why Governor O’Malley was the only Democratic candidate for President to consistently call out the DNC for its unprecedented role in silencing debate, and to lead the charge for more debates.”

The Union Leader credited a grassroots push in New Hampshire for the debate. Leading that push is a group called “New Hampshire Debates.”

“We urge Senator Bernie Sanders, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Governor Martin O’Malley to accept this invitation and give the voters of New Hampshire their final pitch in this competitive race,” that group stated in a release issued this afternoon. “We are grateful that the Union Leader and NBC have heard the voices of New Hampshire voters who have advocated loud and clear for a final debate since the summer. Our historic first in the nation Primary will benefit immensely from a final, prime time reckoning between the three candidates.”

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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