As the Democratic primary wears on, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has slowly moved the goalposts for debate participation. June and July started out fairly wide open, with 20 candidates split over two nights. Then the September debate cut the stage down to just 10 candidates. October looks like it will be shaping up to have 11 candidates, once again, split over two nights.

In November, however, the qualifications needed to claim a spot on the debate stage will tighten dramatically which may result in a smaller event with just 5 candidates.

The November Democratic debate requirements say that candidates will need to hit 3% in at least four national or early state polls — or 5% in two early state polls. The donor threshold has been increased to 165,000 unique donors, with at least 600 each in at least 20 states.

The 3% cutoff is the kicker for most campaigns who were able to make the cut at 2%. The other part of it, getting to the 165,000 unique donor part, will winnow out the others. In total, there are only 5 candidates right now who are “safe” from debate elimination.

November Debate Candidates

Here is the list, up to this point, of candidates who have already made the November debate, and the rest sitting on the outside looking in.

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

Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, is in the predicament where he has 2 qualifying polls but doesn’t have the donor threshold. He recently made an impassioned plea for fundraising if supporters want to see him on the stage in November. He’ll need to get his donor numbers over 165,000, and also pick up 2 more qualifying polls.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, has met the donor mark but needs 3 more polls to make the cut for the debate stage. That will be a heavy lift in time for November.

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke has the donors as well, but he only has 1 qualifying 3% poll, and no early state polls at more than 5%. At the moment, unless he gets some good polling numbers between now and then, he’ll be off the stage in November.

Businessman and entrepreneur Andrew Yang is in the same boat as Beto. Yang has the donors but has just one qualifying poll. He’ll need a miracle to boost his prospects for November.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro has the donors but has no qualifying polls that help his cause.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is stuck in the same place as Castro. She has the donors, but no polls which would count to qualify her toward the November debate. She still might make the stage in October, but remains 1 poll shy.

Democrat fundraiser and activist Tom Steyer has also met the donor mark but has no qualifying polls. He’s unlikely to get any traction between now and November, though he will be part of the October debate so it’s possible, though unlikely.

Having the rules tighten in September, then seemingly loosen in October, and now drastically tightening in November is going to cause some upheaval in the campaign. It’s safe to say at this point that if the candidates who don’t make the cut in November haven’t been able to build any campaign momentum after six or more months of campaigning, it’s probably just not their year.

As a result, the November Democratic debate could well be just a stage of 5 candidates. Keep track of progress over at the debate schedule.

6 COMMENTS

  1. For the sake of Democracy and transparency I really wish the DNC had release all the debate rules and requirements ahead of time. This practice of not defining the poll and donor thresholds until weeks before each debate appears like they have their thumbs on the scale, yet again.

    • The rules were set in February. They were adjusted in May. Tulsi Gabbard is the only one attacking the party. Scorched earth policy.

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