Flint gets Democratic presidential debate on March 6

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will square off in a debate in Flint on March 6, two days before Michigan Democrats head to the polls.

The Democratic National Committee is sanctioning the televised debate in Flint, which Clinton sought so she can continue highlighting the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

Democrats are using the crisis in Flint against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder because his emergency manager was in charge of the city in April 2014 when Flint began drawing corrosive Flint River water that later caused toxic lead metal to leach into the water supply. Experts have said the addition of corrosion control additives in the river water would have avoided the catastrophe.

“This is an opportunity to shine a light on the crisis in Flint and show folks Democrats’ response to making sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “It also is a good opportunity for folks in Michigan to see these candidates up close and personal, and talk about the issues that matter to them on a national level.”

The Flint debate is on a Sunday and is one of three new debates approved by the DNC. The exact time and location in Flint wasn’t included in the DNC’s announcement.

“The first of these new debates is confirmed to take place in Flint, Michigan on March 6th, with the remaining two taking place in April and May with times and locations to be determined,” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a Wednesday statement. “We will continue to work closely with both campaigns as we finalize the remaining details.”

Michigan’s presidential primary is March 8.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, has accused Clinton of using Flint as a “political prop” to bolster a struggling campaign against Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont.

Sanders said Wednesday on CNN that he and Clinton agreed to additional debates in Michigan and California. The Sanders campaign originally proposed a March 3 debate at an unspecified location in Michigan.

“We didn’t get all the commitments that I wanted,” Sanders said on CNN. “We got California, we got Michigan — and that’s good. I wanted a debate in New York City ... but Secretary Clinton has not agreed to do that.”

Sanders had wanted an April debate in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and Clinton’s campaign headquarters is located.

After Clinton narrowly edged Sanders in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the former secretary of state is in a pitched battle with the Vermont U.S. senator in next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Clinton and Sanders will appear at a televised town hall meeting at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Manchester, New Hampshire, sponsored by CNN.

Then the candidates will square off again Thursday night in a DNC-sanctioned debate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Other DNC-run debates are scheduled for Feb. 11 in Milwaukee and March 9 in Miami.

“Our debates have set viewership records because of our candidates’ ideas, energy, and the strength of their vision to build on the progress we’ve made over the last seven years,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We look forward to seeing them continuing to share Democrats' vision for the country.”

(517) 371-3660