Democratic candidates defy party and consider new debate

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MSNBC and New Hampshire Union Leader are holding a Democratic debate on Feb. 4.

A newly scheduled presidential debate could upend the Democratic Party’s plans.

The New Hampshire Union Leader announced Tuesday that it will partner with MSNBC to host a Democratic debate on February 4 — five days before the state’s crucial presidential primary.

Martin O’Malley quickly agreed to the debate and Hillary Clinton’s campaign said she “would be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate.”

Bernie Sanders’ campaign said, “We will be working with the DNC and the other campaigns to schedule additional debates.”

The debate is not one of the six primary debates sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee.

The DNC has a so-called “exclusivity clause,” which says that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate will be excluded from one of the official six.

Related: Donald Trump says he got Union Leader removed from GOP debate

In a statement Tuesday the DNC said, “We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule.”

The DNC has been heavily criticized both for the small number of debates scheduled and the inconvenient times they have aired on television. In May, the O’Malley campaign lamented the DNC’s warning on unsanctioned debates, saying that “exclusivity does no one any favors.”

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow are scheduled to moderate the February 4 debate.

Related: Donald Trump is ‘dishonest,’ Union Leader publishere says

Readers of the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, “have demanded a debate to help them see who is most fit to be the Democratic nominee for president,” according to the newspaper’s publisher and president Joseph W. McQuaid.

McQuaid said he was concerned that the 2016 election cycle was about to become “the first time in 32 years without a Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary.”

The news comes on the heels of two other recent debate shakeups. Last week, NBC News was replaced by CNN for next month’s Republican debate in Houston. And earlier this month, the Union Leader was axed as a sponsor of a February 6 GOP debate that will air on ABC.

Donald Trump took credit for forcing the Union Leader out of the debate after claiming the newspaper would be biased against him because it endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

The Union Leader has not made an endorsement in the Democratic primary.

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