DNC Sets Criteria For December Debate

The stage for the sixth Democratic debate in December is likely to be much smaller.

The Democratic National Committee has announced the criteria for the fifth debate of the election cycle, and it is clear these new criteria will make it difficult for anyone beyond the top five candidates to qualify for the debate stage going forward:

The halfway mark of the Democratic debate calendar is coming up, and the sixth debate will likely feature the smallest stage yet.

New thresholds announced by the Democratic National Committee for the sixth debate — which will be hosted by POLITICO and PBS on Dec. 19 in Los Angeles — represent only a modest step up from the criteria for the next debate in November. But they could still seriously endanger the participation of all but the top five candidates.

To make the December debate, candidates must hit 4 percent support in at least four DNC-approved polls of primary voters nationally or in early-voting states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina) — or, instead, they can qualify by hitting 6 percent in two approved early-state polls. Candidates must also bring in donations from 200,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 800 donors in 20 states, territories or the District of Columbia.

The DNC has continuously stepped up the requirements to participate in successive debates throughout the year. The new thresholds will put pressure on Democratic candidates outside a top five — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris — who have routinely polled above 4 percent in approved surveys so far.

Based on this chart from Politico, it appears as if former Vice-President Biden, Senator Warren, and Senator Sanders have all qualified for the December debate by meeting both the polling and the donor support criteria. The two other members of the top five — Senator Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg — have both met the donor criteria but have yet to meet the polling criteria. Given their position in polling at the state and national level, though, it’s likely that they’ll be able to qualify well before the December 12th cutoff date. Two other candidates, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, have met the donor criteria as well but are far behind on the polling criteria. Beyond this, though, it seems unlikely that any other candidates will qualify, including past debate participants such as Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, and Amy Klobuchar will be able to meet the criteria. If that is the case, then the debate stage will be at its smallest yet with just five participants, which seems like an ideal place to be just two months before voting began. (Source)

Before we get to the December debate, of course, this is the fifth debate, which will be held on November 20th in Georgia and broadcast on NBC. To qualify for that debate, candidates must get 3% or more in four national polls approved by the DNC or get 5% or more in two polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. Additionally, candidates must have 160,000 unique donors with at least 600 unique donors coming from 20 different states or the District of Columbia. So far, nine candidates have qualified for this debate, with the most recent being Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Three other candidates — Beto O’Rourke, Tulsi Gabbard, and Julian Castro — have met the donor criteria but not the polling criteria. (Source) This could mean that as few as nine candidates will be on the stage next month.

Dropping the number of debate participants to as few as five seems to me to be entirely appropriate given the fact that we’re getting closer to the time when voting will start. Debates in the past have given virtually all of the candidates the chance to make their case to a national audience at least once, and if they’re unable to get above 4% in a poll it seems clear that they are not going to be the nominee. Absent something surprising, it seems clear now that the Democratic nominee is going to be one of five people, former Vice-President Biden, Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, Senator Harris, or Mayor Buttigieg. Perhaps someone else, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar will surprise us in Iowa, but beyond that the stage has literally been set. It’s time for the dance to begin.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Guarneri says:

    Here’s one:

    Your son must be a Renaissance Man, doing private equity deals in China, oil and gas directorships in Ukraine, and lawyering it up in Romania.

    That Hunter. Man. Smart dude (we’ll look past the addictions)………..to have his Daddy be wielding political influence everywhere he does business…………

  2. An Interested Party says:

    It’s hilarious how Trump’s groupies have developed the same disease he suffers from–projectionitis…that any of these fools would criticize anyone else’s offspring and still support Trump and his own shady spawn…of course the irony is lost on such people…

  3. James Joyner says:

    On the one hand, it’s rather weird to exclude legitimate candidates like sitting governors and senators this far out from the first primary. On the other, the campaign has already been ongoing for nearly a year. If you can’t get to 4 percent in the polls, you shouldn’t be running.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I understand the unique donor metric. I suppose it’s tangible in a way that polls aren’t. But polls are a much better metric of viability than “lots of people gave me a dollar.”

  4. @James Joyner:

    polls are a much better metric of viability than “lots of people gave me a dollar.”

    Especially since the second criterion can be manipulated to some extent. For example, I know several conservatives who talked about a campaign to drop a dollar or two in the till for New Age weirdo Marianne Williamson to keep her in the debates. I don’t know how many people actually did this but it got her into the first two debates. She hasn’t been in any of the others, though, and has largely disappeared from the scene.

  5. Tyrell says:

    Beto has thrown -er in reverse on his gun seizure statement. He would let hunters, people who have the need, and competition shooters keep their AK 47 and AR 15. “If you purchased an AR15, you own it, you keep it.
    He also has “clarified*” his church statement.
    Clarified is the new synonym for reversed, walked back, backtracked.

  6. @Tyrell:

    Do you have a link for this?

  7. Tyrell says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Beto O’Rourke Changes Policy on Mandatory Gun Buybacks” ( OANN 10/28/19)
    “Beto O’Rourke Walks Back Plans to Strip Tax-Exempt Status From Non LGBT-Affirming Churches” (Activist Mommy 10/18/19)
    “If a religious organization simply does not “believe” in same sex marriage would not lose their tax exempt status”
    Beto’s proposal’s and ideas seem to be more fitting in Cuba or China. Even socialist Democrats are jumping on him about what he says.