WASHINGTON, DC – Ahead of the March 15th democratic primary debate, the Democratic National Committee has changed the debate rules to allow campaign surrogates to fill in for the candidates.
“We understand that the rigors of the campaign trail and busy travel schedules of each candidate might preclude one or more of them from attending the debate,” explained DNC chairman Tom Perez, adding “that’s why we’re now going to allow up to three surrogates to attend the debate on the candidate’s behalf.”
Perez then clarified that the rule change would only apply to candidates who have won ten or more contests as of the March 6th qualifying deadline.
While Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has qualified for the debate, only former vice president Joe Biden has reached the threshold to allow surrogates to debate on his behalf.
“Vice President Biden has a prior fundraising engagement at the home of [Lockheed Martin CEO] Marillyn Hewson in Potomac, Maryland that night, so he’ll unfortunately be unable to attend,” said Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz. “But we’re thrilled that Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg will be able to attend the debate on Joe’s behalf.”
According to the new rules, each surrogate will stand in for the candidate for one segment, and switch between commercial breaks.
The debate, which will take place in Phoenix, AZ and be aired on CNN and Univision, will be broken into three one-hour segments. The first segment will focus on issues of women and people of color, and Kamala Harris will debate Sanders on Biden’s behalf. The second segment, a discussion on health care and rural issues, will feature Klobuchar in place of Biden. The third segment, with Pete Buttigieg standing in for the vice president, will cover the economy, foreign policy, and gay rights.
While he won’t be present at the debate, Biden will have the opportunity to pre-record his opening and closing statements which will then be aired during the debate.
If the new debate rules prove successful, a DNC spokesman has suggested that they may lobby the Commission on Presidential Debates to adopt similar rules for the general election debates this fall.