First on CNN: Clinton, Democratic presidential opponents to debate six times

Washington CNN —  

Democrats will announce Tuesday six presidential primary debates, giving long shots a potential opportunity to share the debate stage with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, CNN has learned.

The Democratic National Committee has plans for debates to occur in the early-contest states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The two other locations will be decided at a later date.

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“Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be,” said DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz who confirmed debate details in a statement shortly after CNN broke this story.

The DNC will set the criteria for debate inclusion and any candidate who participates in a separate debate outside of the sanctioning process will be barred from future DNC debates, a Democratic official told CNN.

The official said that the DNC decided six debates was a reasonable number and in line with what the national committee sanctioned in 2008. The debate process won’t begin until the fall, according to the official, because that is “when voters are truly beginning to pay attention.”

The Democratic debates will be sponsored by state Democratic parties, civic groups, and national and local broadcast media. Details including specific dates and broadcast networks for each debate will be announced at a later date, the official said.

Hillary Clinton tweeted she was excited for the opportunity to debate.

Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, are the two only announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb have all said they are seriously considering running for the Democratic nomination.

“If Governor O’Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates—both nationally and in early primary and caucus states. This has been customary in previous primary seasons. In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors,” O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement Tuesday.

Republicans have a much larger and more contested field of candidates. They will sponsor between nine and 12 primary debates beginning in August.