- Benenson wouldn't say the campaign was outright refusing a New York debate
- Clinton is far ahead in the delegate race and is the favorite in national polling
Washington (CNN)Hillary Clinton's top strategist said Monday her campaign isn't willing to entertain a new debate in New York next month -- yet.
Joel Benenson repeatedly dodged questions from CNN's Kate Bolduan on "At This Hour" regarding Bernie Sanders' call for scheduling a debate just ahead of the New York primary April 19th and he tried to turn the pressure back on Sanders.
"She's done well in the debates. The debates have been very good," Benenson said. "But Sen. Sanders doesn't get to decide when we debate, particularly when he's running a negative campaign against us. Let's see if he goes back to the kind of tone he said he was going to set early on. If he does that, then we'll talk about debates."
In response to Benenson's remarks, Sanders' backers launched the #ToneDownForWhat hashtag on Twitter to make the displeasure known.
Sanders proudly speaks of never running a negative campaign ad in his political career, and his campaign has not run any advertising directly attacking Clinton.
Clinton is far ahead in the delegate race and is the favorite in national polling, but Sanders won three Western states this weekend by wide margins and has eaten into her delegate lead. He says he can overtake Clinton and believes New York, the delegate-rich state that she represented in the Senate, could be in play.
He has called for another debate and Clinton previously was open to expanding the debate calendar after the Democratic National Committee initially restricted the candidates to only six debates. More were added, but none has been officially scheduled since March.
Benenson wouldn't say the campaign was outright refusing a New York debate.
"I didn't say that," Benenson said when asked if he was ruling one out. "I said we're not going talk about it. We're going to see what kind of tone he sets. If his campaign wants to run the kind of negative campaign and run negative ads ... that's going to be disappointing to a lot of Democrats who feel we have to start focusing on Republicans."
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told reporters Monday he believes the Clinton campaign will come around.
"The Clinton people have had previously said they would absolutely not debate in New York, our view is it will be extremely difficult for them to maintain that position as we get closer to the New York primary," Weaver said. "I think it's not going to be acceptable to voters in New York state. Voters there have a right to expect more and I think they will."
Clinton spokesman left the door open in an interview later Monday with CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
"It's still only March, so there's plenty of time to consider a potential debate in April and if we have one where the site for it would be," he said.
But he called the Sanders request for the debate a "stunt."
"I think that the Sanders campaign is struggling a bit for attention," Fallon said. "The delegate math being what it is, people sort of realize the Sanders campaign has an uphill climb. So I think that this is an attempt by them to get back onto peoples' radar."