File as: You may not always get what you want.
Eight in 10 Democratic primary voters say in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll that they would like to see a round of Democratic debates during the 2024 campaign. That includes 72% of those who support President Joe Biden.
But the odds of that happening are as close to zero as you can get in politics. Biden has expressed no interest in participating, and the Democratic National Committee has said it will not sponsor any.
History is on their side. “As you know, no holder R [Republican] or D [Democrat] made debates,” Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said in an email. Incumbents generally see no benefit in risking a misstep or giving their challenger such a large platform.
In 1980, for example, President Jimmy Carter did not debate Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
Now Kennedy’s nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is issuing a challenge to Biden that has dramatically lower odds of success.
Biden’s claim to the nomination was not seriously threatened, but the results underscore his need to shore up and energize the Democratic base. In the poll, 58% of Democrats back Biden for the nomination while 15% back Kennedy and 6% back Marianne Williamson; 21% are undecided.
There might be at least a slight political downside to dodging the debates.
“The decision not to debate ignores the 82% of women, 84% of unionized households, 86% of independents and 90% of young voters who not only plan to vote in their state’s Democratic primary or caucus next year , but who would also like to see a series of Democratic primary debates,” noted David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Center for Policy Research.
The poll of 293 registered voters who plan to vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, taken Monday through Friday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.
Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy Sr. and an anti-vaccination campaigner, said he was “unfortunate” no debate seemed to be on the horizon.
Williamson, the self-help book author who ran for the 2020 nomination, accused the DNC of “rigging” the election. “Candidate suppression is a form of voter suppression, and the party that claims to be champions of democracy shouldn’t be so wary of it back home,” she said in an op-ed in Newsweek.
In the last election, with no Democratic incumbent in power, Biden participated in 11 DNC-sanctioned debates in the primaries.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Biden Debate RFK Jr. and Williamson? Democrats say he should.