The incredible shrinking debate: No press room or audience at next Dem debate due to coronavirus

The Democratic National Committee has announced next Sunday’s latest Democratic debate in Arizona won’t have an audience, press filing center or spin room. The DNC and CNN, which is hosting the debate, said the precautions are being taken in the wake of the coronavirus.

“DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the mayor's office, which advised that we could proceed as planned," said DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa. "Nevertheless, our No. 1  priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans and all those involved in the debate. We will continue to remain in daily contact with all stakeholders through Sunday.”

CNN said its network officials agreed.

"CNN's top priority is the safety of our employees and community members," the network said. "This extends to guests planning to attend or cover our debate on March 15. At the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to eliminate the debate live audience, the press filing center and spin room in Phoenix."

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The debate will air exclusively on CNN, CNN en Español, CNN International, and Univision at 8 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are the top two remaining Democrats in the party’s quest to oust President Donald Trump this November. Since the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, every other candidate, except U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, has dropped out of the race.

»March 10, 2020, presidential primary results

Biden was the big winner in the most recent set of presidential primaries Tuesday night, winning delegate-rich Michigan as well as Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho. Sanders was hoping to win North Dakota and Idaho. Gabbard has yet to win a single primary and has not appeared in the last three debates.

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Both Sanders and Biden abruptly canceled scheduled rallies Tuesday night in Cleveland amid concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus, as public health fears began transforming the 2020 race.

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Sanders had been planning to speak at a convention center in Cleveland as results from six states voting in the Democratic presidential contests began rolling in. But he pulled the plug only about three hours before it was scheduled to start, and his campaign announced that decisions on future events would be made case by case.