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Democratic National Committee Head On Debate Schedule, Sanders' Success


In Iowa, caucusing has begun. Things got underway at sites throughout the state about half an hour ago. In most cases, before Iowans make their choices, they listen to speeches in support of the candidates - a final try at convincing undecided voters. On the Democratic side, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is close, and we're going to go now to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's also a congresswoman representing Florida. Welcome to the program.

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks, Audie - good to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, this election cycle's really underscored the value of airtime, but there have been Democrats who really worried about the DNC's scheduling of debates. They happened on Saturday nights, and TV viewership was low. The fact that you've now agreed to hold on to more - to hold more debates - is that a sign that you are also concerned?

SCHULTZ: No, Audie. Let me actually correct you. Our viewership has been anything but low. We've had record viewership for the totality of our first four debates. We've set records, beaten 58 of 61 of the primary debates from 2008 and 2012.

CORNISH: And you're comparing this to Republican as well - as your saying your own Democratic Party.

SCHULTZ: Democratic or Republican without Donald Trump in the mix.

CORNISH: OK. That's a hard one, yeah (laughter).

SCHULTZ: Well, but if you take out - when the Republicans took out Donald Trump in their last debate, they - their viewership was cut in half and was about the same as our debates have had this year. So we were absolutely confident and comfortable with our debate schedule. At this point, we've had all three of our candidates ask us to consider scheduling additional debates. And you know, we're a service organization. Obviously we want to make sure we can do everything that we can to promote our candidates and with consensus from our candidates, which we did not have before. We were able to, you know, move forward, and we've been working with them to schedule and manage, you know, their schedules to add these additional debates.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the rise of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Did his success take you by surprise?

SCHULTZ: No. I mean, I served with Senator Sanders in the House of Representatives for a number of years and, you know, know him. And I, you know, I - his passion and his commitment to progressive causes is inspirational. And it's not at all surprising to me that he has been able to attract a large following. And frankly, that's a hugely positive thing for the Democratic Party because at the end of the day, we know no matter who our nominee is, Democrats are going to come back together and support united behind our Democratic nominee. And that's a - so his organization is going to be a huge boon for either him or whoever our nominee is.

CORNISH: But after eight years of Democratic leadership, you know, Sanders supporters aren't satisfied with the status quo. I mean, what does that mean for the party regardless of who wins tonight?

SCHULTZ: Well, it certainly doesn't mean that they want to go to the doom-and-gloom policies and the reckless rhetoric and falsehoods of the Republicans, who, you know, we hear from day in and day out, that seem to be saying that we should go back to what their version of the glory days was when the Bush administration took us to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

CORNISH: But these voters still wants change, right? I mean, we've had Obama these last two terms.

SCHULTZ: I think what they want is a - is continued improvement. I mean, we've had 70 straight months of job growth in the private sector, and they want to make sure that we continue to move forward and, you know, close that huge income inequality gap. And we all share the same values as the Democratic Party. We have differences of opinion between our candidates on the best approach to getting there, but all of them want to move forward, unlike any of the Republicans, who are all extremists who want to take us backwards.

CORNISH: That's Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chairwoman. Thank you for joining us.

SCHULTZ: My pleasure. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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