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Democratic Party makes it harder to qualify for December’s presidential debate

Twelve Democratic presidential candidates crowded the stage for the Oct. 15 debate in Ohio.
Twelve Democratic presidential candidates crowded the stage for the Oct. 15 debate in Ohio.
(Getty Images)

The Democratic National Committee is again increasing its polling and fundraising requirements for presidential candidates to qualify for participating in the campaign’s sixth debate in December.

The qualifications include a pathway intended to reward candidates generating buzz and support in early-voting states but perhaps not registering as highly in national surveys.

To make the debate stage in Los Angeles, party officials announced Friday that candidates must have at least 200,000 unique donors and a minimum of 800 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.

Candidates must also mark 4% in at least four national or early state polls, or achieve 6% in two single-state polls in the early states. DNC officials have said that this separate pathway may provide an avenue for hopefuls who may not be registering as highly in national surveys as in the key early-voting states.

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The requirements from debate to debate have been heavily scrutinized by candidates and party activists alike, as DNC Chairman Tom Perez juggles potentially conflicting priorities: keeping a historically large field from being too unwieldy for voters while keeping his promise that everyone running would have a fair shot to make a case on the national stage.

The chairman has defended the moves, saying that campaigns have had plenty of notice and that candidates who couldn’t meet the qualifications weren’t building the support necessary to defeat President Trump next year.

The stepped-up thresholds will likely eliminate some from the stage, even as the field continues to contract. This week, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who didn’t meet the October debate requirements, announced he was ending his presidential bid to focus on running for reelection in the U.S. House.

The changes won’t matter much for the top tier of candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Others, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris, have regularly met the polling metrics thus far.

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The field of Democrats vying to be the party’s nominee in 2020 remains crowded. Here are the 17 candidates competing to face President Trump.

The qualification deadline is Dec. 12, a week before the debate. To be considered, polls must be released by approved pollsters between Oct. 16 and that date.

A dozen candidates qualified for this month’s crowded debate stage in Ohio, down from the 20 candidates who qualified in June and July. Then, when the qualifications were at their lowest, candidates could hit just 1% in polls or garner 65,000 donors.

PBS NewsHour and Politico will co-host the Dec. 19 debate at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The moderators and format have not been announced.


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