WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee on Thursday unveiled the early outlines of their 2020 presidential primary debate plans, a process that could allow a large number of candidates to face off over two consecutive evenings in at least a dozen planned debates.
Tom Perez, the chair of the committee, announced that the party would hold six debates in 2019 and the rest in the first six months of 2020. In a shift from tradition, none are scheduled for the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada until 2020.
With nearly three dozen Democrats pondering a presidential bid, party officials anticipate a rush of candidates eager to grab a spot in the nationally televised forums. Depending on the size of the field, the committee may decide to split the debate over two consecutive evenings in the same location, Mr. Perez said, and would conduct a random selection process that would take place publicly to determine which candidates speak on which nights. He did not elaborate on how that process might work.
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Mr. Perez said the committee had not set a maximum number of candidates who could appear on the stage and is planning for the possibility of a “double-digit field.”
“We will likely have a large field of candidates,” he said. “We expect that large field and we welcome that large field. Accommodating a large field of such qualified candidates is a first class problem to have.”
The new process is a direct response to criticism leveled during the 2016 campaign that the committee organized the debate schedule to favor Hillary Clinton, the eventual party nominee. Her two primary opponents, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, accused the party’s leadership of creating a “rigged” process by limiting the number of debates to six — two of which were scheduled for Saturday evenings and one for a Sunday. Eventually the committee sanctioned four more debates.
For the 2020 campaigns, the committee plans to change the threshold for participation to include factors beyond just the polling numbers, such as grass-roots fund-raising support, to capture candidates who may have support that isn’t showing up in public polls.
“We want to make sure that the grass-roots have a real say in who our next nominee is,” said Mr. Perez. “Grass-roots fund-raising is one method of ensuring participation from candidates who may have a different background and profile and base of support.”
The first debate will take place in June 2019 and the last in April 2020. The committee will not sanction a candidate’s participation in any other debates, though forums hosted by other groups, including cable TV networks, are permitted as long as only one candidate appears on the stage at a time. The first primary contest, the Iowa caucuses, is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020, the same day early voting will open in California. Early voting in Vermont will begin a few weeks before, if the current schedule holds.
The two-night format differs from the way Republicans handled their big field in 2016, when more than a dozen candidates were entered. Officials created a format of two debates on the same night, based on poll numbers, with some candidates relegated to an early faceoff that was not nationally televised.
Mr. Perez, whose stewardship of the Democratic committee has been attacked by some members of his own party, called the plan the “most inclusive debate process in our history.” He said the committee’s goal was to give every candidate an opportunity to express their vision to voters while also avoiding weakening the eventual nominee for the general election.
The process comes after extensive consultation with Democratic politicians, strategists and activists, including former and current advisers to both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, and potential media partners for the events. To avoid any perception of bias, the committee did not consult with any potential 2020 candidates or their aides.
The revised debate plan is one of several reforms undertaken by the D.N.C. to rebuild trust within the party after the 2016 elections. This year, committee members voted to dramatically curtail the power of so-called superdelegates — the elected officials, lobbyists and party activists who get to vote for a candidate during the party’s nominating convention. The new rule reduces bars superdelegates from voting on the first presidential nominating ballot at a contested national convention.
Mr. Sanders and his supporters argued that the superdelegates’ role in the nominating process favored establishment figures and gave too much power to elected officials. Though they’ve been part of Democratic presidential elections since 1984, superdelegates have never been a determining factor in a primary. Even in 2008, when several dozen switched to Barack Obama from Ms. Clinton, Mr. Obama won enough pledged delegates to make superdelegate support largely irrelevant.
The committee’s decision prompted a vote of no-confidence in Mr. Perez last month from Congressional Black Caucus, which opposed the plan.