The last day for candidates to submit their polling and fundraising data to earn a September Democratic debate spot is on Wednesday, August 28. There are 10 candidates, so far, that have qualified for the debate stage and at least one or two others who could still find a last-minute poll in their favor to claim a podium spot. However, with literally days to go before the deadline passes, some campaigns are starting to gripe about the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) decision to tighten the criteria for the September debate, only to then extend the deadline for the October debate.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is on the cusp of qualifying, requiring just one more approved national or early state primary poll giving her at least 2% support. Her campaign says she has polls which do show her crossing the threshold, but they’re not polls which the DNC has deemed as acceptable for counting toward a debate spot:

The Gabbard campaign said Monday the DNC should release the criteria for the 16 polling organizations they deem “certified” and said the Hawaii Democrat would qualify for the Houston debate if other surveys been taken into account.

“Rep. Gabbard has exceeded 2% support in 26 national and early state polls, but only two of them are on the DNC’s ‘certified” list,’ her campaign said. “Many of the uncertified polls, including those conducted by highly reputable organizations such as The Economist and the Boston Globe, are ranked by Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight as more accurate than some DNC ‘certified’ polls.”

The question of deciding which political opinion polling is deemed acceptable has always been a sticky business for both parties trying to build a set of rules to govern which candidates should be included in the debates. The polls mentioned by Gabbard’s team, such as polls conducted by the Economist, or the Boston Globe, were conducted using the same scientific polling methods as other polling companies, yet they’re not being counted by the DNC which has provided a fairly generous yet narrowly tailored list of acceptable polling outlets.

The New York Post also points out that other candidates have voiced their anger toward the DNC for creating arbitrary poll and donor requirements for the 2020 primary debates:

The first 2020 hopeful to speak at the Democratic National Committee’s candidate forum Friday blasted the Democratic National Committee’s rules that will likely exclude half the candidates from the next debate.

“The DNC process is stifling debate at a time when we need it most,” said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet to the DNC summer meeting audience in San Francisco.

Bennet said the debate rules reward “celebrity candidates” with millions of Twitter followers, billionaires who “buy their way onto the debate stage” and candidates who have been running for president for years.

The DNC rules also force campaigns to fork over “millions of dollars to Facebook, the same platform that let the Russians interfere in 2016,” Bennet said.

With DNC chairman Tom Perez – who has sought to design a fair and inclusive process – on stage, Bennet took one final jab.

“If we wanted to be the party that excluded people, we’d be Republicans,” Bennet concluded to mixed reaction from the audience.

Bennet also makes a good point as he makes reference to billionaire Tom Steyer, a candidate who is, by all appearances, buying a debate spot with his personal wealth.

Nothing Steyer is doing is illegal, or against any DNC rules, but it’s a great example of money mixing with politics to the exclusion of other campaigns. Steyer is pouring millions of dollars into advertising at a scale that most candidates simply can’t come close to matching. As a result, he’s one poll away from the September debate, and almost certainly has a shot at making the October debate.

… Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has slammed the DNC’s rules after learning late-entrant billionaire Tom Steyer was on the cusp of qualifying for the debate, whereas other candidates have been grinding away on the campaign trail for months.

“I think the DNC rules were well intentioned, but what it really has done is allowed a billionaire to buy a spot on the debate stage,” Bullock said last week. “Tom Steyer just spent $10 million to get 130,000 (donors) – we’re getting to the point where as we’re spending money online as opposed to actually talking to voters.”

The issue for the DNC is that there is no perfect set of rules. The political process is messy and with so many competing campaigns, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

The ironic aspect to the September debate deadline is that even though a candidate doesn’t make the September debate, they are still eligible to qualify for the October debate. In another twist to the Democratic primary debate saga, the DNC extended the deadline for the October debate well into September which means that Tulsi Gabbard, and others, can conceivably miss the September debate but still appear at the October debate stage.

It’s almost certain that the October debate will once again be split over two nights while the September debate looks to be shaping up as a one-night affair on September 12.

As a reminder, he’s the list of 10 candidates that have qualified already for the September Democratic debate on ABC:

NumCandidatePolls AND DonorsDonors Only
1Joe Biden
2Cory Booker
3Pete Buttigieg
4Kamala Harris
5Amy Klobuchar
6Beto O’Rourke
7Bernie Sanders
8Elizabeth Warren
9Andrew Yang
10Julian Castro
Not Qualified
11Tulsi Gabbard
12Michael Bennet
13Steve Bullock
14Bill de Blasio
15John Delaney
16Wayne Messam
17Tim Ryan
18Joe Sestak
19Tom Steyer
20Marianne Williamson

Gabbard still has until Wednesday at midnight, as does Steyer, so the stage could still expand before the final lineup is set.