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DNC raises qualifying thresholds for fifth presidential debate

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Monday announced new criteria to qualify for the fifth presidential primary debate, raising the bar for candidates hoping to make the stage in November.

In order to qualify for the fifth debate, candidates will have to amass support from at least 165,000 unique donors, including a minimum of 600 donors per state in at least 20 states.

They’ll also have to register at least 3 percent in four or more qualifying polls or 5 percent in two single-state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. To count towards the debate criteria, those polls will have to be released between Sept. 13 and a week before the debate.

The DNC has steadily imposed steeper requirements to qualify for its presidential debates. The past two debates required candidates to collect contributions from 130,000 unique donors and notch at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls, doubling the criteria compared to the initial two debates.

But the new requirements unveiled on Monday aren’t as austere as some candidates had predicted. Many campaigns warned in recent weeks that the DNC would likely double the existing donor threshold, suggesting that candidates could be required to collect contributions from as many as 260,000 donors.

The new criteria are reflective of the fine line the DNC has sought to walk throughout its presidential nominating contest.

On one hand, the committee has been tasked with overseeing a historically crowded and diverse field of candidates jockeying for the Democratic nomination. But DNC officials have also sought to head off accusations that they are trying to winnow down the number of candidates before voters have a chance to weigh in. Currently, 19 candidates are running for the Democratic nomination.

Already, a handful of candidates have dropped out of the presidential race after struggling to make the debates. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) ended their campaigns after it became clear that they would miss the fall debates. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio dropped out of the race last week for the same reason.

Perhaps the most significant change in the new criteria is that candidates now have two ways of meeting the DNC’s polling requirement. They can either register 3 percent in four national or state polls, or they can hit 5 percent in at least two single-state polls from one of the early primary and caucus states.

A handful of candidates already appear to have met the new donor threshold, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Only three qualifying polls have been released since Sept. 13, meaning that no candidate has met both criteria yet.

But the new requirements are likely to pose challenges for several candidates, who haven’t yet met the lower benchmarks for the fourth presidential debate in October.

In recent weeks, several candidates have pointed to the DNC’s anticipated decision to raise the qualifying thresholds as part of their fundraising pleas. Within minutes of the new criteria being announced, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) seized on the news in a fundraising email to supporters. 

“This new 165,000 donor threshold underscores the reason we’re being radically transparent with you,” Booker wrote. “The bar in this race has gotten higher and it will continue to. It’s not just the DNC threshold – our campaign needs to scale up to have a chance to stay in this race and compete to win the nomination.”

— Updated at 3:47 p.m.

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