Democrats Up the Debate Ante

By Jim Ellis

May 31, 2019 — The Democratic National Committee just announced the imposition of new requirements for presidential candidates to participate in the series of subsequent debates to begin in mid-September. The first two sessions are scheduled for June 26-27 and July 30-31 in Miami and Detroit, respectively.

The field is close to being set for the initial forums with 20 candidates qualifying according to the Intelligencer publication, the personnel from which have been tracking the debate process since the schedule was first announced.

To earn a podium in the first two debates, the candidates are required to either score one percent support in three of eight designated polls or reach 65,000 donors, of which at least 200 must come from 20 specific states.

The participants will include some of the more obscure candidates including author Marianne Williamson, New York City businessman Andrew Yang, and the two western governors, Jay Inslee of Washington, and Steve Bullock from Montana.

This means that Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam likely will not be part of the first forum, though time remains for them to still qualify.

The DNC, however, is limiting the number of podiums to 10 per night over the two-session series; hence, a tie-breaking procedure will be utilized if more than 20 individuals ultimately qualify. Average polling support will be emphasized over the donor requirement in order to break any deadlock.

The committee will draw lots to see which candidates appear on the first and second night. This procedure will be in effect for all 12 debates if necessary, the six to be held during the remainder of this year and the other half-dozen in 2020.

To limit the forum size to only the most viable candidates in the later forums, the Democratic Party leadership is adopting new requirements. For the debates beginning Sept. 13 to be held in a still as yet undetermined location, the qualifications virtually double. At that point, candidates will need to prove they have 130,000 unique donors and show two percent support in at least four sanctioned research surveys. The requirement deadline is set for Aug. 28.

According to the Politico publication, if these requirements were in place for the first two debates, the field would winnow from 20 candidates to just eight, rather surprisingly on the two percent polling requirement alone, and six when adding the donor condition.

The polling qualifiers would be former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ); Mayor Pete Buttigieg and ex-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). The two not currently having 130,000 donors are Sens. Klobuchar and Booker.

The new requirements will help narrow the field to a more manageable core in short order. How those left out in the cold will respond may be predictable, but it is doubtful their objections and protests will prompt the leadership to change any of these rules or stated positions.

Therefore, the mid-September debate forum on the 13th and 14th could well mark the first defining period in this most interesting primary election cycle.

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