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The other day I sat down with Vox for a conversation about the upcoming debates and the DNC’s commitment to a fair, transparent primary.

I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it — it’s a long conversation, but I’m including this excerpt because it’s an important one. With an unprecedented number of Democratic candidates in the race right now, it’s never been more critical that we come together to build a strong Democratic Party.

Take a look.

I wanted to start off by talking about the new debate requirements. What was the impetus behind these changes?

Tom Perez
Well, the impetus behind everything is we want to make sure we create a fair process, an inclusive process, a process that gives every single person the chance to articulate her or his vision for the American people.

I have had the privilege of working with the vast majority of the candidates, and they’re really great people in their own right. I want to make sure the American people get to see what I’ve had the privilege of experiencing. So, fair shake for everybody and inclusive process. That equals more participation and an energized electorate, and that translates to victory for Democrats.

Looking at how these changes are playing out so far, have they satisfied that original goal? Are there any trade-offs?

Tom Perez
We wanted to make sure that we returned power to the grassroots. When we undertook reform of our rules last year, we limited the role of superdelegates on the first ballot. And that superdelegate reform was designed to return power to the grassroots. We engaged in other reforms of our primary and caucus processes, so now there are going to be six states that had a caucus before that will have a primary this time. Why is that desirable? Because more people participate.

Then the grassroots fundraising threshold for the debate participation, that was designed with an understanding that if you want to win the presidency, you’ve got to have a grassroots strategy. And so I’m very excited about the fact that I believe our protocols and requirements have catalyzed further engagement with the grassroots by a number of candidates. And I think that’s great for our process.

I know a few Democratic candidates have gotten a bit creative with the ways that they’re satisfying these requirements. I’m thinking specifically of John Delaney promising to donate his own money to charity [per number of donors]. Do you think this is gaming the system at all?

Tom Perez
I look at what’s happening in the aggregate. And what we have seen, overall, is a lot of engagement that I don’t think would have taken place otherwise. The fact that we have catalyzed this conversation and catalyzed action among every campaign, I think that’s good for the Democratic Party. Our nominee is going to be that much more capable of winning because they’re going to be that much more engaged with the grassroots.

Since the DNC announced a ban on Fox News hosting debates, there’s been this interesting debate on whether Democrats are ignoring a wide, and certainly ideologically different audience for their ideas. Especially with candidates like Bernie Sanders going on Fox town halls — and in Sanders’ case, there was this interesting moment on Medicare for All with the audience.

Tom Perez
I go on Fox News pretty regularly, I’ll continue to go on Fox News. I encourage the candidates to go on Fox News and I wholeheartedly support the Town Hall format that they have been using with candidates.

A debate with all the candidates on the stage is one of the most important parts of our primary cycle. And while I will continue to engage with Fox News in all the ways I’ve just described, I think it’s one of my responsibilities to ensure that our debates are substantive, that they focus on the issues. And when you look at all the media accounts for Fox News … Sean Hannity, that’s not news, that’s just the peddling of propaganda.

I mean, that’s disturbing enough. But what was even more troubling for me was the fact that the senior people were putting their thumb on the scale of the news division. Donald Trump getting questions in advance from the 2016 campaign. You look at recent media accounts about Fox News and the aftermath of Sen. Sanders’ appearance. Apparently, Trump tweets and he uses the term ‘we’ referring to him and Fox News. No, they are not supposed to be one and the same, but they are and so many reports that speak to the inappropriate, close relationship between Fox News and the Trump administration.

So I have an obligation as the DNC chair to ensure that at Fox, that every single debate is going to be a debate on the issues where I don’t need to worry about distractions or other things that undermine our North Star principle, which is making sure that all of the candidates have their chance to articulate their vision to the American people. Holding a debate with the stakes as they are, I just don’t have the confidence at the moment they are up to the task.

There are a historic number of women candidates, and candidates of color in this field. But so far, national polls show white men are dominating the fields with candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, who comes up as a rising star. I’m curious what you think this says about where the Democratic Party is at right now?

Tom Perez
I think that there’s a host of candidates, including women, who are actually quite competitive. You look in recent polling and you see Elizabeth Warren has been steadily moving up. Kamala Harris throughout has been competitive. This is the third mile of a 26-mile marathon. And I used to be a marathon runner, I can’t remember who was the head in the third mile of the marathon. It’s all about who will win in the end, and I think it’s incumbent moving forward for us to make sure that all of the questions we ask and all of the approaches that folks in the media take reflect an understanding that we are in mile three.

And we want to make sure that we treat all of the candidates with the fairness and inclusion that I believe they have all earned. Today, there are people who may be pulling 2 percent. Sen. Klobuchar, who may be taking off in states that will reap dividends months down the road. I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is we have a bumper crop of candidates, and we’re certainly working our hardest to make sure that every single one of them has a chance to articulate what they believe in and what they’re going to fight for.

Thanks for taking the time to read this important update: No matter which Democratic candidate becomes our eventual nominee, it’s critical they have the full force of a strong Democratic National Committee behind them.

The DNC is the only official party organization tasked with electing a Democrat to the White House in 2020. No organization is better positioned to build the long-term organizing infrastructure to lift our Democratic candidates to victory, which is why early investment in that infrastructure is so important right now.

Thanks for standing with us, our candidates, and Democrats everywhere,


Tom Perez
Democratic National Committee

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