Phoenix Will Host a Democratic Presidential Debate in March

Phoenix has been selected to host the 11th Democratic debate this election cycle on March 15.
Phoenix has been selected to host the 11th Democratic debate this election cycle on March 15. Screenshot of C-SPAN video
The Democratic presidential candidates will travel to Phoenix for a debate on Sunday, March 15, just two days before Arizona's presidential preference election, the Democratic National Committee announced on Friday.

The DNC's decision to host the debate in Phoenix, first reported by the Arizona Republic, comes as Democrats hope to drum up support in Arizona, which some consider a potential swing state in 2020 despite the fact that it has leaned solidly Republican in elections for the past half-century.

CNN and Univision will host and live-stream the debate from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, (5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Arizona time), according to CNN. CHC Bold PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is also a partner for the debate.

The debate location has not yet been announced, but Channel 12 News reports a person familiar with the plans said it could be in downtown Phoenix, at either the Phoenix Convention Center or the Arizona Federal Theatre.

“I personally want to thank Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Members of Congress Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for their assistance throughout the selection process,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement. “Arizonans can’t ask for better local and national advocates.

This will be the 11th Democratic debate this cycle, and will follow debates in February in Nevada and South Carolina. It will come just ahead of Arizona's March 17 Democratic presidential preference election, but after several state primary elections and caucuses, including votes in 14 "Super Tuesday" states on March 3.

Already, the race is heating up, with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly ahead in the Iowa caucus results and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders emerging victorious in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

The field of Democratic candidates still includes eight presidential hopefuls, but it is rapidly thinning out — entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick all quit the race this week.

Here in Arizona, most of the candidates have had a limited presence so far, focusing on early-voting states, though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have both established offices and teams on the ground in the state, their campaigns told New Times.

Meanwhile, Republican President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election next fall, is scheduled to host a rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum next Wednesday, February 19.

Ahead of that event, on Monday, the DNC's Perez, other Democratic leaders, and state lawmakers will be in town for a roundtable discussion on Trump's proposed budget, according to the Arizona Democratic Party.

Though Arizona has voted Republican in every presidential election but one since 1952, its rapid growth and increasingly diverse voter population in recent years has galvanized Democrats to try to swing the state blue in 2020. The Democratic National Committee has identified Arizona as one of eight "battleground" states for 2020, and announced plans to focus aggressive efforts in Maricopa County.

Matt Grodsky, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said he's "thrilled" the debate will bring the Democratic candidates to Arizona days before the state's registered Democrats cast their votes in the presidential preference election.

"We believe it reaffirms our battleground state status," Grodsky said.

The qualification requirements for the debate and the debate format have yet to be announced.
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.