The stage for the upcoming September Democratic debate will be smaller, likely by exactly half the number of candidates who participated in the first two debates. The threshold to qualify is a fairly high bar for campaigns to reach. To make the cut, candidates must have at least 130,000 unique donors across different states, and get at least 2% support in four separate polls which can include state or national polls.
Up until his point, it was only Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro who seemed on the verge of hitting both requirements before the Aug. 28 deadline, though they still remain longshots for the September stage. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang just hit his fourth poll so he is the ninth candidate to qualify for September.
However, don’t count out what a personal billion-dollar fortune can do for a candidate trying to punch and scratch his way onto the debate stage.
According to CNBC, billionaire and big-time Democratic donor Tom Steyer has all-but secured a debate spot for September and is now just one poll shy, thanks to pouring millions of dollars into ads supporting his fledgling campaign:
After piling money into ads, billionaire Tom Steyer has hit the donor requirement for the next 2020 Democratic presidential debate, his campaign said Tuesday.
The former hedge-fund manager and activist reached the 130,000 individual donor mark required to make the debate stage in Houston next month. Steyer now needs to garner 2% of support in one more qualifying poll to join nine other Democrats in the debate. Candidates have until Aug. 28 to qualify.
Steyer, known for funneling millions of dollars into a push to impeach President Donald Trump, took a unique path to the cusp of qualifying for the debates. He entered the presidential race in July — months later than most of his rivals — pledging to spend $100 million of his own money on his bid. He then blanketed Facebook with ads — many of which urged supporters to donate $1 to his campaign.
That’s well and fine for Steyer, money can buy a lot of things. What it can’t buy, however, is adoration and pleasantry from Steyer’s Democratic rivals who view his moves as a classic demonstration of the corrupt influence of money in politics:
The Democratic primary should not be decided by billionaires, whether they’re funding Super PACs or funding themselves. The strongest Democratic nominee in the general will have a coalition that’s powered by a grassroots movement.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 9, 2019
Tom Steyer spent nearly $10 million to buy his way onto the debate stage. But no matter what the @DNC says, money doesn’t vote.
— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) August 13, 2019
In some respects, Steyer is simply using the rules set forth by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) against them. The DNC says he needs polls of at least 2% in early states. No problem! Steyer can drop millions across many states and just wait for a few voters to show some interest in his campaign and urge supporters to send him $1 as he racks up a donor list:
He topped 2% of support in two separate surveys in Iowa, which will hold its first-in-the-nation caucuses in February. He also reached 2% in a poll of South Carolina, where the fourth nominating contest will take place in late February.
Steyer has put some focus on messaging in the early states. He spent $1.4 million on a television ad campaign that ran from July 10 to July 23. It aired nationally and in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Hitting 1% support was easy in June and July since that level in a poll with a margin of error over a few percentage points could literally be a statistical mistake. However, hitting 2% consistently in several polls is a little harder for most candidates, but clearly not impossible with targeted advertising to get Steyer’s name on the minds of at least a handful of voters.
With a large primary field that voters can barely keep track of, sending a barrage of advertising in early states allows Steyer to keep his name fresh when pollsters call, and the result is that he just needs one more poll and he’ll make the cut for both September and October.
If he does make the stage in September, he can expect a boatload of opposition to his presence from the other candidates on stage. Prior debates have been riddled with rhetoric against “millionaires and billionaires” not paying their fair share or gaming the political system with special interests and pet projects. For class warriors like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders to be standing next to a billionaire who practically bought a spot on the stage will be an interesting dynamic if it happens.
Steyer would push the September debate to ten candidates total. If Gabbard or Castro does make the cut before August 28, then the September debate will be split over two nights on the 12th and 13th.