Presidential candidate John Delaney highlights importance of debates as number of qualified Democrats grows

PHOTO: Former Maryland congressman John Delaney speaks to guests at the Monroe County Democrats spaghetti supper at the First Christian Church, Feb. 17, 2019, in Albia, Iowa.PlayScott Olson/Getty Images
WATCH 1-on-1 with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney has been running for president longer than any Democrat in the field — two years and counting — but as the pool of Democrats continues to grow, a coveted spot on the debate stage is the next key step for lesser-known candidates like Delaney who are working to break through.

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"We feel pretty good about where we are," Delaney said in an interview on ABC News' "The Briefing Room" about the first Democratic debates, which he has qualified for.

It’s a relief for candidates to hit that mark, which Delaney characterized as "really important" to his campaign’s success.

"We have new ideas and a different vision, and I want to talk to the American people about that," said Delaney, who is betting his campaign not on national recognition but on getting through to people on the ground.

The candidate, who holds the unique title of having been to Iowa more than any other Democratic candidate, is currently one of 20 Democrats who has qualified to make it onto the stage for the first debates, according to an ABC News analysis. The cap, however, is 20, and there are at least four candidates who are still working to get on the stage.

The way those candidates make the stage is by either netting at least 1% in either three national polls or early-state polls conducted between January 2019 and two weeks before a given debate. They also must receive donations from over 65,000 people across 20 states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state.

The candidates who meet both thresholds get their spots secured first.

Delaney and six other Democratic candidates, according to an ABC News analysis, have hit just one of the thresholds: national polling.

Delaney, for his part, steered clear of commenting directly on the potential to be bumped from the stage if only one threshold has been met, as is the case with his campaign, saying instead that he didn’t want to get into "the crazy DNC methodologies."

Delaney also commented on one of the key topics Democrats are prioritizing in the midst of new restrictive laws passed around the country last week on abortion.

As Democrats like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have done, Delaney said he’d "like to have justices who will defend Roe vs. Wade" if elected president.

"I would want to put forth justices that will defend the progress that we've made as a society. I want justices who will put people first. But in particular, I want to make sure we have justices who will defend the progress we've made," Delaney said, including judges who would defend both Roe v. Wade and "the progress we've made on LGBT rights in this country."

Delaney, who is a moderate candidate, is in line with many of his fellow Democratic candidates in this pledge. But on another issue key to Democratic voters — the issue of climate change — he differs.

Asked about the reaction to his $4 trillion climate change plan released last week, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend system, Delaney criticized plans of his fellow Democrats as tough on American families.

"I don't think you can solve climate change on the backs of hard-working Americans," Delaney said. "So many Americans are struggling right now. We can’t put forth plans, like many of my competitors are doing, that just crushes working families. We have to have a totally different approach."

The carbon fee and dividend system, which would put a fee on carbon production and return the revenue to Americans, falls in line with policies that have been criticized by Democrats who want a stricter approach, like the Green New Deal.

Delaney, however, said his focus is on what can get done fast.

"I think what people who really care about climate understand is we have to do something right away. And I believe I can get this massive carbon fee and dividend bill put in place as law in my first year as president. It'll cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90%," Delaney said.

How? According to Delaney, a coalition of all the Democrats in Congress and Republicans who live in coastal states will be in favor of it, "because they have to deal with this issue."

Delaney’s appearance on "The Briefing Room" came just ahead of his fourth trip to South Carolina, another early voting state seeing increasing numbers of candidates.