Presidential candidate US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in the CNN Democratic debate in Detroit on Wednesday, July 31.
CNN
Presidential candidate US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in the CNN Democratic debate in Detroit on Wednesday, July 31.
Now playing
34:59
Watch night two of the CNN debate: Part 4
John Avlon 0413 Wallace
CNN
John Avlon 0413 Wallace
Now playing
03:31
Avlon compares Tucker Carlson's comments to George Wallace
Fox News/Twitter
Now playing
01:33
ADL wants Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson over racist comments
Now playing
01:54
'You think I'm racist': Former Fox News host storms off camera
CNN
Now playing
03:37
'The fraud is this farce': Cuomo calls out Fox News host
CNN
Now playing
05:00
Watch Alisyn Camerota sign-off CNN's New Day
Camerota Berman both
CNN
Camerota Berman both
Now playing
02:33
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota gets surprise tribute from co-anchor
CNN/HBO/"Q: Into the Storm"
Now playing
05:35
Filmmaker says he potentially uncovered man behind QAnon
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 30:  Anti-vaccine activists hold up signs during a protest in front of the Massachusetts State House against Governor Charlie Baker's mandate that all Massachusetts school students enrolled in child care, pre-school, K-12, and post-secondary institutions must receive the flu vaccine this year on August 30, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Scott Eisen/Getty Images
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 30: Anti-vaccine activists hold up signs during a protest in front of the Massachusetts State House against Governor Charlie Baker's mandate that all Massachusetts school students enrolled in child care, pre-school, K-12, and post-secondary institutions must receive the flu vaccine this year on August 30, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:06
Research exec: Far-right groups pushing vaccine as 'mark of the beast'
stelter chauvin trial international coverage kethevane gorjestani sot rs vpx_00000000.png
stelter chauvin trial international coverage kethevane gorjestani sot rs vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
02:19
How the rest of the world is covering the Derek Chauvin trial
CBS This Morning
Now playing
01:57
Hunter Biden makes rare comment about seized laptop
Fox News
Now playing
03:43
Tucker Carlson's interview with Gaetz gets uncomfortable
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: News headlines on the impeachment trial of Donald Trump are displayed outside of the Fox headquarters on February 09, 2021 in New York City. After listening to nearly four hours of legal arguments, the Senate has voted on Tuesday to move ahead with the impeachment trial of former President Trump. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: News headlines on the impeachment trial of Donald Trump are displayed outside of the Fox headquarters on February 09, 2021 in New York City. After listening to nearly four hours of legal arguments, the Senate has voted on Tuesday to move ahead with the impeachment trial of former President Trump. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:03
Dominion Voting Systems files $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News
 President Donald Trump waves as he departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Al Drago/Getty Images
President Donald Trump waves as he departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:35
Trump praises Capitol rioters 'hugging and kissing the police'
Now playing
01:33
Meghan McCain is, again, in the hot seat over diversity comments
Now playing
01:51
John Oliver calls out Meghan McCain's response to Atlanta shootings
(CNN Business) —  

The next Democratic debate is two weeks away – and right now it is shaping up to be a one-night event.

That’s how ABC, the primary network hosting the debate, would like it to stay that way. Aides to several of the leading campaigns want the same thing.

But there’s some TV drama to this story. Just one poll could turn the debate into a two-parter.

The primary debates in June on NBC and the debates in July on CNN were spread out over two nights. The Democratic National Committee purposefully set a low bar to qualify for those debates, in an attempt to be fair to the huge field of candidates. So twenty candidates debated in randomly-sorted groups of ten per night.

But the DNC is raising the bar for this next round of debates. The deadline to qualify is on Wednesday, and ten candidates are in. Ten is the maximum number for a one-night debate.

“If more than 10 candidates qualify under the rules, the debate will take place over two nights,” ABC says. “For the two-night scenario, ABC News in accordance with the DNC will hold a selection event on Aug. 29 to randomly assign the candidates to a night.”

That’s what has caused some grumbling among the top-tier campaigns.

“Continuing to assign candidates by random draw for the fall debates makes no sense and is a disservice to primary voters,” one of the aides said. “They want to see Biden-Warren-Sanders-Harris-Buttigieg. They’ve been the consistent top tier for months now. Why keep pushing that off?”

Bernie Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir, when asked for his view about the qualification rules, said “honestly we’d just like the opportunity to be on stage together with many of the leading contenders. That’s it.”

As of Tuesday, that’s what is likely to occur, with just one debate to be held on Thursday, September 12.

Sanders has made it, along with Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang, according to assessments by ABC, CNN and other outlets.

The group of ten have met the necessary 130,000 individual donor threshold and topped 2% in four approved polls.

Another candidate, Tom Steyer, has met the donor criteria but needs to hit 2% in one more poll to make the cut.

One poll came out on Monday, from Monmouth University, but Steyer was shown with less than 1% support.

Steyer’s aides have been increasingly critical of the DNC’s polling criteria. They have been hoping that a state poll in Nevada, where Steyer’s campaign has invested heavily, will come out and show him with 2% support. But no poll on the DNC-approved list has. Media consultant Kevin Cate tweeted on Monday, “Seems like we are down to two days for a state poll of Nevada. The @DNC @TomPerez @ABCPolitics shouldn’t let that happen.”

ABC deferred questions about the criteria to the DNC. A spokeswoman for the party declined to comment.

But the party has been nothing if not transparent about the rules: Everyone involved has known the criteria for months.

The cut-off for the September debate is on Wednesday night. ABC is aware of two more qualifying polls that will be released on Wednesday, according to a person at the network.

That means Steyer could still make it. So could Tulsi Gabbard, who has met the donor threshold but needs two more polls.

Other contenders like Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Marianne Williamson, and John Delaney have no shot at the September stage.

The debate criteria are contributing to a winnowing of the unwieldy field, though there are many other factors at play as well. Three candidates have dropped out of the presidential race so far this month.

Aides with some of the top-tier campaigns have expected this to happen. Speaking privately, they said they’d prefer for one night of debating.

“Having one night is the priority,” one aide associated with a leading campaign said. “We are fine if it’s 11 on one night if it’s just one night.”

But if Steyer does qualify on Wednesday, then the debate will be divided into two nights, with part two taking place on Friday, September 13.

The aide explained that not knowing the definitive night of their candidate’s debate is problematic. “We are all running national campaigns,” the aide said, “and to not find out who is on stage and which night we’re on until 10 days out is insanity and frankly unacceptable.”

During the NBC and CNN debates earlier this summer, viewership was higher on the second night. This was partly attributed to a greater number of high-profile candidates being on stage on night two, each time the result of a random draw.

But Fridays are different – TV viewership is typically lower on Friday nights. So a Friday debate is much less appealing to the campaigns.

That prospect also holds little appeal inside ABC. “There is a sense for us that one big event is better,” a source at the network said, a point of view shared by others there.

In the meantime, the uncertainty makes the debate more difficult to plan from a production standpoint.