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- The Democratic National Committee increased its threshold for presidential candidates to qualify for primary debates.
- The new criteria are even more difficult to meet for lesser-known candidates, leading some to grow frustrated with the DNC’s decision.
- As a result, the field of Democratic candidates could quickly thin out before actual voting begins early next year.
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Presidential candidates looking to participate in the Democratic National Committee’s sanctioned primary debates initially had to meet one of two thresholds to be eligible: achieving at least 1% in three separate DNC approved polls or obtaining at least 65,000 donations with minimum of 200 donors from at least 20 states.
While many candidates have easily surpassed both requirements, some have just been able to get a nod in a few polls. Still, most candidates are in the clear for the first debate on June 26 in Miami, as well as the debates scheduled for late July in Detroit.
But the DNC this week made it demonstrably more difficult to appear in subsequent debates by setting stricter criteria. This left many Democrats facing the prospect they could soon be eliminated from participation, a de facto ousting from the primary field.
To appear at the recently-announced third set of debates in September, candidates must achieve 2% in at least four DNC-approved polls and double the minimum of number of donors to 130,000. That quickly became a death sentence for candidates who for months have not even cracked the first donor threshold.
Top-tier candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are already in the clear, but candidates without massive donor lists and little name recognition are becoming increasingly frustrated with the rules.
“I don’t think it’s a measure of success,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who thus far has not reached enough donors to qualify for the first debate. “I don’t think it’s a measure of electability. I don’t think it’s a measure of quality of candidate.”
Other struggling candidates have expressed discontent with the process, suggesting the DNC is acting in bad faith and slashing the field before any actual voting begins.
“I don’t think the DNC should be winnowing the field early in the process,” Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado told Fox News at a campaign stop.
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio characterized the changes as unfair because the whole purpose of the debates is to deliver your message and try to appeal to larger audiences.
“To start winnowing the field this early in the process I think isn’t the best way to go about doing it, because you need a chance for the American people to see you,” he told Fox.
One candidate who has been in the race longer than anyone but has still failed to gain enough small-dollar donations is former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland.
Delaney, who has largely been self-funding his campaign, pledged to donate $2 of his personal wealth to charity in exchange for each donation he receives. It still has yet to take as Delaney has not announced his campaign has been able to surpass the 65,000 threshold.
Delaney sent a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez in May questioning the criteria selection process.
“I write to encourage compete transparency as to how the Criteria were determined,” he wrote. “The Criteria are incredibly important in determining our nominee and we can all agree that putting forth the best nominee in 2020 is mission critical for the Democratic party, particularly considering the risk to our democracy and the American people posed bu a potential second Trump term.”
Delaney then listed several requests about how the DNC came to the decision to raise donor and polling thresholds, including whether any advisers consulted on the process, if candidates were prioritized, and why donors is a better standard than polling.
Candidates who fail to make the debates because of lack of donations could see that money dry up even more quickly. Lack of face time on in front of large national audiences and undecided Democratic voters could result in candidates fading in polls that are already stretched thin.
The result will almost certainly be the swift winnowing down of the current 24-person field of 2020 candidates.