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Democratic debate tickets come with a steep price, prompting backlash

Megan Henney

If you were interested in watching the 10th Democratic debate live in South Carolina on Tuesday night, you were in luck — so long as you had $1,750 to burn.

Attendees often receive tickets for free from someone important, like one of the candidates, who are each allotted an equal number of seats, an official with either the Democratic National Committee or the state party, or someone who worked for the news network hosting the debate.

But for those who missed out on the elusive free ticket at last night’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, there were seats available for sale.

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As is often the case with other debates, the state and local parties in South Carolina that helped organize the debates offered an option for people to “sponsor” the debate. The Charleston County Democratic Party offered sponsorship options ranging from $1,750 to $3,200, which included admission to the debate as well as access to other gatherings surrounding the event, according to a local news station, WCSC.

"This is something that the average person doesn’t usually get to go to," a local party official told the station.

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A similar method was used during the first Democratic debate in Miami in June, according to the Miami Herald. At the time, the Florida Democratic Party offered exclusive access to the event: For $4,500, a sponsor received two tickets to a pre-debate reception and two tickets to both debate nights. For $3,000, a sponsor received two tickets to the reception and two tickets for one of the debate nights. A $1,750 donation to the party netted one ticket to the reception and ticket for a single debate night.

The price of tickets drew ire from the party’s frontrunner, progressive Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, after the debate.

“You know how much it costs to get a ticket down below? I read that it costs $1,750,” Sanders said. “So to get a ticket to the debate, you have to be fairly wealthy. Most working people I know don’t spend $1,750 to go to a debate. And that’s problematic.”

Throughout the debate, a boisterous crowd frequently booed Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, while cheering on his moderate rivals, including Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden. The hecklers, and their apparent preference for Bloomberg, raised unfounded theories on Twitter that the billionaire, who is self-funding his campaign, had paid attendees to support him.

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The viral conspiracy theory prompted the Bloomberg campaign to deny, mid-debate, that it had done so. The Democratic National Committee also pushed back against assertions that the booing of Sanders was related to the hefty ticket price.

“Let me give you the facts: The tickets were divided up between the DNC, campaigns (with equal allocation), SC Dem Party, CBCI, CBS and Twitter. We invited local and community leaders, and DNC supporters. This is the most diverse audience,” the party’s communications director, Xochitl Hinojosa, wrote on Twitter.

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