Democrats set polling, fundraising thresholds for first two presidential debates

Candidates must reach 1 percent support or receive donations from 65,000 people.

February 14, 2019, 4:01 PM

The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday the thresholds required to gain entrance into the party's first two presidential debates, setting benchmarks for polling and grassroots fundraising that represent the first tangible effort to pare down an already crowded field of candidates.

In order to qualify for the debates in June and July, candidates must earn at least 1 percent support in three separate national or early-state polls conducted from Jan. 1 to two weeks before the given debate, or receive donations from at least 65,000 people across 20 different states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state.

The number of debate participants will be capped at 20 and -- as previously announced -- candidates will "draw lots" to determine the night on which they will take part, should the number that qualify be unwieldy for a single debate. Eleven major Democrats have already announced their entrance into the race or the formation of an exploratory committee, with upwards of 15 more considering runs.

"We’ve spent months working with media partners to provide this unprecedented opportunity for candidates and voters to get to know each other," said DNC chair Tom Perez in a statement. "Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving 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.”

Crowds cheer as Hillary Clinton delivers her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016.
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The change, which follows past cycles in which both major political parties used polling alone to determine debaters, comes as Perez continues to smooth relations between the committee and liberal party factions that argue Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was unfairly disadvantaged during the 2016 primaries. The chairman previously stated that he wanted to ensure that every candidate is given a "fair shake" during the nomination process.

Though specific dates, times and locations were not announced, both debates will take place on weeknights during primetime hours. The June debate will be broadcast by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, and the July debate by CNN. The events will additionally be livestreamed free of charge.

In December, prior to the much of the current field's entry into the race, Perez revealed the party's plans to hold a total of 12 debates and split the early events into separate sessions to accommodate the expected quantity of candidates.

At the time, the chairman said that it was "the first step in an orderly and transparent debate process," and that the party was working with possible candidates, past campaign staffers and a number of members to formulate the final plan.

Six of the Democratic Party's 12 debates will take place in 2019 and six in 2020. The thresholds announced Thursday apply only to the first two events. It is unclear if such qualifiers will be necessary for subsequent debates.

The announcement comes as Democrats convened in Washington for the party's Winter Meeting to make a number of decisions regarding the upcoming presidential primaries and a 2020 convention site.

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