September debate stage nearly set as Democratic field awaits Wednesday deadline

So far, a field of 10 are poised to take the debate stage in Houston next month.

With two days left until the qualifying deadline for the third Democratic primary debate on Wednesday, a couple of candidates are closing in on the polling threshold, potentially growing the number of qualifying contenders and separating the field over two nights.

So far, a winnowed field of 10 candidates are poised to take the debate stage in Houston, according to an ABC News analysis, reaching the cap to keep the event to only a single night. It's the smallest qualifying crowd yet for a matchup in a presidential field that still counts over 20 Democrats in its ranks.

But the upcoming third debate, hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision in Houston, stands on the verge of being split over Sept. 12 and Sept. 13.

Both billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, have already crossed the donor threshold, according to their campaigns, and according to an ABC News analysis, Steyer remains one poll away from qualifying, while Gabbard is two polls short.

As previously announced, if more than 10 candidates qualify under the rules, the debate will take place over two nights and ABC News, in accordance with the Democratic National Committee, will hold a selection event on Aug. 29 to randomly assign the candidates to a night.

The candidates who have qualified, according to an ABC News analysis of publicly released information and pending verification by the DNC after the qualifying deadline, include:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Regardless if the candidates square off on one night or two, the format will be one minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for rebuttals and will feature four moderators: ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, ABC's "World News Tonight" Anchor David Muir, ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis and Univision Anchor Jorge Ramos.

    Earlier this year, prior to the first Democratic debates, the DNC announced more stringent qualifying rules for the fall debates in September and October.

    With less than half of the field qualifying for the September debate, missing the cut hangs over most of the presidential hopefuls.

    A couple of the candidates unleashed some of their harshest criticisms against the DNC over the weekend during the committee's summer meeting in San Francisco.

    One candidate who has yet to cross either threshold to participate in the debate, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., blasted the committee for the party's primary debate format while standing on the same lectern as DNC Chair Tom Perez.

    "The DNC process is stifling debate when we need it most," he said to some applause.

    He said the party committee's debate rules benefit "celebrity candidates" with "millions" of Twitter followers over candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

    "If we wanted to be the party that excluded people, we'd be Republicans," he said, adding that he would continue to campaign even though he won't make the debate stage in September.

    Last week, Gabbard also directly called on the DNC to revise its list of debate qualifying polls -- part of an effort by her campaign to help her qualify.

    Gabbard's campaign cited what they claim are several irregularities in the selection and timing of the DNC sponsored polls. The campaign points out "Gabbard has exceeded 2% support in 26 polls, but only two of them are on the DNC's "certified" list.

    In a press release, the campaign said many of the uncertified polls, including those conducted by highly reputable organizations, such as The Economist and the Boston Globe, are ranked by Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight as more accurate than some DNC "certified polls."

    In order to qualify for the September debate, candidates must cross both the polling and grassroots funding thresholds. Candidates must receive 2% or more support in at least four national polls, or polls conducted in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada and publicly released between June 28 and Wednesday.

    Any candidates' four qualifying polls must be sponsored by one or more of the following organizations approved by the DNC: The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, the Des Moines Register, Fox News, Monmouth University, NBC News, The New York Times, National Public Radio, Quinnipiac University, University of New Hampshire, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post and Winthrop University. They also must be conducted by different organizations or -- if by the same organization -- must be in different geographical areas.

    The debate will be held at Texas Southern University, a public, historically black university, and will air across ABC, Univision with a Spanish translation, in Houston on KTRK-TV and on ABC News Live. The streaming channel is available on the website and apps, as well as Hulu Live, The Roku Channel, Facebook Watch, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube, Apple News and Twitter.

    ABC News' Benjamin Siegel, Beatrice Peterson and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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