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Here’s Why the Democrats Are Debating on a Saturday

Democratic Presidential Candidates Hold First Debate In Las VegasDemocratic Presidential Candidates Hold First Debate In Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley walk on the stage at the end of a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 13. Photograph Joe Raedle — Getty Images

At 9 p.m. Saturday night, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley will gather in Des Moines, Iowa for their second official debate, out of a total of six, to be aired on CBS. (There was also a “candidates forum” held last week in South Carolina hosted by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.)

Why are the Democrats putting their candidates on stage on a Saturday, when most people are either out, or at least not likely to gather around the television for political debate (journalists and political nerds excluded)?

Some of frontrunner Hillary Clinton‘s rivals have suggested the debate schedule was put together to protect Clinton. The smaller the audience, the idea goes, the less likely it is for Clinton to succumb to a prominent stumble and lose her lead. The Washington Post notes that Clinton originally wanted to have four debates, rather than six, and that she preferred to avoid having too many debates.

Clinton’s recalcitrance is understandable. In 2008, she went into the debate process as the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination. But after a series of strong debate performances (and a superior campaign infrastructure, both online and on the ground) Barack Obama was able to catch up and beat her for the nomination. With Clinton once again the heavy favorite, it makes sense that she’d want to limit the possibility that one of her rivals may sneak up from behind her yet again — and to limit the audience for a potentially tide-turning debate.

Eric Walker, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, declined to comment on rumors that the Clinton campaign wanted debates to be on the weekend. He did note that the Republican debates on major networks are also scheduled for the weekend. Those debates will take place on Sunday evenings.

Historically, a weekend debate is an anomaly, according to Vox.com. Since the 2000 election cycle, there have been 100 debates. Only seven of those events have been held on a Saturday, most recently a Republican showdown in January 2012. But this election season, Democratic candidates will be weekend warriors. In addition to this Saturday’s event, Democratic candidates will gather for debate on two other weekend days, on Saturday, Dec. 19, and on Sunday, January 17.