Hillary Clinton got some much-needed good news on Tuesday when the Democratic National Committee announced that it would hold six presidential primary debates starting this fall.
What?! you say. How can it be a good thing for Clinton to be in a bunch of debates (okay, six) with candidates who will see these skirmishes as their best (and, really, only) chances of knocking her front-runner block off?
Sure, the debates will give every Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb and Martin O'Malley an equal-ish platform to Clinton that they could never afford -- literally -- otherwise. But, viewed broadly, the debates are likely to do Clinton more good than harm.
Remember that Clinton and her team want to make sure you and everyone else knows that she is not taking this nomination for granted -- despite the fact that the field running against her is not exactly the 1927 Yankees.
What better way to show that she is willing to fight for the every vote than to stand on a debate stage six times with the other candidates? That leveling process is a net good thing for Clinton in a way it wouldn't be for virtually any other candidate. While this would be seen as "punching down" for most well-known candidates, Clinton badly needs to avoid the appearance of a coronation, and a bunch of debates is a very good way to do that.
Then there is the fact that Clintonworld would like some positive media coverage during the primary and some credit for winning it.
Clinton is, if the 2008 campaign is any evidence, a skilled and poised debater who will likely perform well in the six showdowns to come. Her debate performances will then provide a storyline that isn't about her e-mail server, the Clinton Foundation or how much she or her husband were paid to give speeches. Clinton and her top aides abhor process stories, but a series of pieces about her ability and agility on the debate stage would be the sort of process-y story they would welcome with open arms.
Clinton also doesn't want the prevailing sentiment of the coverage, especially among Democratic voters, to be that she beat a bunch of nobodies and proved nothing in the process. An ideal Clinton primary win would be one in which she was challenged just enough to get credit for not just winning but for answering some of her critics in the process but not one so competitive that, well, she wasn't guaranteed victory. A series of debates lends credibility to Clinton's challengers that they might not be able to acquire otherwise.
Then there is the general election consideration. Clinton has not been an active candidate for anything since mid-2008. She is rusty -- as any candidate would be who hasn't run for anything in seven years. Carefully stage-managed conversations with average people in early primary and caucus states is not the same thing as a freewheeling debate when it comes to getting your game legs under you for the general election. Clinton's people might not ever admit it publicly, but she undoubtedly needs practice before the three highly watched and highly meaningful general election debates against the GOP nominee. These warm-up debates will give her just that.
Taken together, the debates are a very good thing for Clinton. They expose her to risk, sure, but the rewards for her campaign are far greater.