Gov. Steve Bullock, after missing out on June Democratic debate, qualifies for July face-off

Bullock will miss the first round of debates but has qualified for the second.

June 18, 2019, 11:49 AM

Despite missing the cutoff for the first Democratic debate scheduled for later this month, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock might get a shot at the second round of debates in July, the Democratic National Committee confirmed Tuesday.

An Iowa poll conducted by CBS News and YouGov qualified the governor for the debate under the DNC's rules, a DNC spokesperson told ABC News.

POLITICO first reported the governor's qualification, which was immediately celebrated by Bullock's team.

"As the only candidate who has won a Trump state, we are excited that Gov. Steve Bullock’s important voice will be on the stage for the second debate," Bullock's campaign manager Jenn Ridder said in a statement.

The Montana governor's qualification for the debate does not, however, guarantee Bullock's place on the stage -- a nuance triggered by the DNC's participant cap for the debates, which stands at only 20 candidates. Bullock is the 21st Democratic candidate to qualify for the July debate in Detroit, which means tie-breaker rules outlined by the DNC are expected to come into play to decide which of the candidates actually take the stage.

The 20 candidates who qualified for the first debates in late June in Miami will also qualify for the second debates, which fall under the same rules: a candidate must either net at least 1% in three national or early-state polls conducted between January 2019 and two weeks before a given debate, or receive donations from over 65,000 people across 20 states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state. Two other 2020 candidates, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, also did not meet the thresholds for the June debate and have yet to qualify for July.

The DNC's tie-breaker rules favor candidates who have higher polling averages. The deadline to qualify for the second debates is two weeks before candidates take the stage on July 30 and 31 in Detroit, meaning that more candidates have time to cross the threshold and qualify.

Based on an ABC News analysis, the tie-breaker at this time would be between California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Bullock. Both candidates have identical polling averages and have narrowly crossed the threshold in only three qualifying polls. Neither campaign has released details on their donor base, nor announced if they have met the donor threshold. As of the first debates, Swalwell did not cross the donor threshold.

It has been a rocky road for Bullock, who narrowly missed the cut-off for the first Democratic debate scheduled for June and was, at one point, considered qualified by news outlets, including ABC News. It was only after a late rule change by the DNC, which eliminated one of the polls thought to qualify Bullock for the debate, that Bullock was knocked off the list of candidates. For that debate, too, he would've been the 21st candidate and triggered tie-breaker rules.

Bullock's campaign has attempted to capitalize on the exclusion from the debate by painting the governor, who was elected by the same Montanan voters who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, as an outsider, accusing the DNC of not learning "the right lesson from the 2016 election."

"If we’re going to take back the places we lost — and then do the hard work to get our country back on track — we can’t let the DNC’s new rules exclude the perspectives of leaders who have done this before," Bullock said in an op-ed last week.

Bullock, who entered the race just about a month ago, has said he entered late because he "had a job to do" as Montana's governor. The state legislature was in session until late May and one of his hallmark achievements as governor, Medicaid expansion for about 10% of the state's population, was up for renewal.

The DNC's confirmation of these polls comes a day after Bullock announced he will appear in a pair of locally televised town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire on the same days as next week's first debates.

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