Now that the dust has settled after the latest round of debates in the Democratic primary, here’s an assessment of where the campaign is headed into Fall when the real campaigning starts to take place. If there is one thing we learned from the first two debates, it’s that the field remains divided and no single consensus candidate has yet emerged to consolidate Democratic primary voters and claim the mantle of an uncontested front runner.

Related: Watch the CNN Democratic Debate Night One and Night Two

Former vice president Joe Biden remains the leader, but his numbers are not as strong as they could be which means he’s still in danger of being usurped if voters decide that they want to put a next-generation candidate forward instead of Biden.

The end of the summer months will also mark the end of the road for a good number of candidates who stand no chance at qualifying for the third debate coming up in September. The threshold has been doubled and requires meeting both fundraising and polling qualifications as opposed to the either/or rules of the first two debates.

September debate might feature only 10 candidates

As a refresher, the entrance requirement for the third debate, which airs on ABC on September 12, is as follows:

  1. At least 2 percent in three qualifying polls
  2. 130,000 unique donations from a minimum of 400 donors in 20 states

Both criteria must be met in order to lock-in a podium spot on stage in September. As it stands now, according to a New York Times analysis, these are the 9 candidates who already meet both qualifications as of today:

1. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
2. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey
3. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
4. Senator Kamala Harris of California
5. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas
6. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
7. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
8. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
9. Businessman Andrew Yang (see update)
10. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro (see update #2)

Candidates on the verge of qualifying

There are two more candidates who could conceivably qualify for the debate between now and August 28, the deadline for the next cutoff.

1. Tom Steyer (1 poll away)
2. Tulsi Gabbard (1 poll away)

Both candidates have met the donor requirement but they’re short of 1 poll. There is enough time, however, for them to poke their supporters and get a campaign going to help propel them to the next debate. It’s possible that at least 1 or more of these names will be added to the list of 10 before we get to September.

Candidates who face debate elimination

1. John Hickenlooper
2. Kirsten Gillibrand
3. Jay Inslee
4. Michael Bennet

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard seemed to have a reasonably strong performance on Wednesday playing attack dog for Joe Biden and getting under the skin of Sen. Kamala Harris, is at risk of being shut out. If she’s missing from the stage in September, it would leave Biden without an ally. She only has one qualifying poll to her name at the moment and is short on donors. It would be a miracle for her campaign if she managed to break out with some good polling data in the next three weeks and scrape together enough donors, but it’ll be an uphill climb in a short amount of time.

The other name that will likely be missing in September is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York. She’s a big name in Washington, as a Senator, but never caught on with voters on the campaign trail. It’s highly unlikely she’ll get anywhere close to making the cut.

Gov. Jay Inslee, of Washington, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, of New York City, are in the same boat. They have no qualifying polls to their name and no chance at wracking up the necessary number of donors in time.

What does a smaller debate field mean for Biden?

If the debate lineup were to hold at the 10 candidates listed above, that would be a stage filled with around six liberal to very liberal candidates standing with Biden and Klobuchar, the two remaining moderate-leaning candidates in the field. The attacks on Biden’s record as not being progressive enough or bold enough when compared to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would be an onslaught.

In fact, we haven’t even seen Warren on stage with Biden yet but you can be sure she’ll be ready to attack him on issues related to banking and bankruptcy law, an issue the two have sparred over previously.

The next Democratic debate airs on September 12 on ABC.


As of Friday, August 9, businessman Andrew Yang has met the requirements and become the ninth candidate to make the September debate stage which also qualifies him for the October debate as well.

Update 2

As of Tuesday, August 20, former HUD Secretary Julain Castro has met the requirements and become the tenth candidate to make the September debate stage which also qualifies him for the October debate as well.