The Democratic National Committee will double the qualifying thresholds and require that 2020 candidates meet both in order to participate in the third and fourth primary debates, the committee announced Wednesday.
Candidates had to achieve 1% in three polls from an approved list of pollsters or receive campaign contributions from 65,000 unique donors, including 200 donors each from 20 different states, to qualify for the first Democratic primary debates in June, which will be hosted by NBC News, and the second set of debates in July, which will be hosted by CNN.
In order to qualify for the third and fourth set of debates in September and October respectively, candidates will now have to achieve 2% in four polls from a slightly changed list of approved pollsters and receive 130,000 unique donors (from the date of their campaign’s creation), including 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 US states.
The doubling of the threshold will mean that a number of candidates who qualified for the first set of debates will no longer meet the qualifications for the debates in September and October, and will now have to work to make up the differences over the next few months.
But the biggest change will be that candidates now have to meet both the polling and donor threshold, not just one like in the first two debates. This is a significant shift that will likely reduce the number of candidates qualified for the third and fourth set of debates.
The other change is on the polls that help a candidate qualify. Two polls – Reuters and Las Vegas Review Journal – have been removed from the list, which now includes Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Des Moines Register, Fox News, Monmouth University, NBC News, New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), Quinnipiac University, University of New Hampshire, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post and Winthrop University. The DNC said Wednesday that they reserve the right to add a Nevada-based poll, if one with adequate standards can be found.
The committee announced on Wednesday that ABC News, in partnership with Univision, will host the third debate. If needed, the debate – like those in June and July – will occur over consecutive nights, with the first debate happening on September 12 and the second coming on September 13.
A DNC aide tells CNN that the committee will decide to host two nights of debates once the number of candidates who qualify tops 10. If, for example, 11 candidates qualify for the third set of debates, one night will have five candidates on the stage and the next night will have six.
While it is unlikely, if 20 candidates qualify for the third set of debates, each night will be capped at 10 people on stage, the aide said.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez has said since he took the helm of the committee in 2017 that he was looking to run “an open and transparent primary process” that gives “all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before.”
But Democratic operatives inside the committee have long planned to raise the qualifying threshold after the first two contests.
Candidates will verify their unique donors by using ActBlue donations or data from NGP Van, two vendors commonly used by Democratic campaigns.
“Small-dollar donors are more eager than ever to be a part of a movement, but they need to be invited into the process,” said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue. “Candidates who will be prepared to take on Trump in the general should already be working to build programs that can bring in 130,000 donors by the second round of debates.”
The thresholds for the first two debates have already rankled candidates and the third and fourth debate thresholds are sure to do the same.
“That’s an odd measurable,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has yet to reach the 65,000-donor threshold, told CNN earlier this month in New Hampsire. “Like, why do you make that your measurable as opposed to have you won elections before and have you ever run statewide before and how many votes have you gotten before and have you passed legislation and are you effective in your job?”
She added: “I think it’s random and inaccurate, but it’s their choice. They’re the DNC, so I’ll follow the rules that are given, and I’ll have to play by the rules.”