It’s Time For Democrats To Severely Limit Access To The Debate Stage
The time for coddling the candidates polling below 5% is over.
The deadline to qualify for the next Democratic debate in October is fast approaching, and Democrats are already debating the criteria for the debates in November, December, and January:
As Democratic presidential candidates barrel into the fall, they are still waiting for the party to write the rules for the most important events of the campaign.
The candidates are bracing for another round of strict new debate criteria from the Democratic National Committee, which has already halved the list of candidates making the debate stage and could once again shrink it drastically within weeks.
Ten candidates participated in September’s DNC debate and 11 have qualified for the October edition, but the DNC has yet to spell out the thresholds it will use to ration debate participation in November and December with time running short. Even small changes in the criteria could have far-reaching effects: When the DNC set its thresholds at 65,000 donors or 1 percent in polls earlier this year, 20 candidates made the stage.
But merely increasing the polling threshold to 2 percent in four DNC-approved surveys, and doubling the donor threshold, capped the September debate at one night. Even a modest increase for November could spell the end of several campaigns that are just hanging on to the debate stage, and while we know the criteria are likely to keep going up, no one knows exactly how it will affect the 2020 field. And in a nationalized presidential election, the debates have proven to be the most important opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves to large audiences and try to change the direction of their campaigns.
“My only complaint with the DNC’s process is that they haven’t announced what the heck is going on for the November debates yet,” Democratic candidate Andrew Yang told POLITICO, asking whether any reporters knew what the new thresholds would be.
Yang has made every debate so far and is confident of meeting future criteria, and he said “the DNC’s thresholds to make the debates have been incredibly helpful, because then you just know what to aim for.”
Yang is right that the Democratic National Committee should make the criteria for the November and December debates clear as soon as possible. These will be some of the final debates before the voting starts in February 2020 and will likely be the ones that get the most attention from voters in the early primary states. That being said, I would also argue that because of this the criteria for these debates should be far more stringent than they have been so far.
To qualify for the June and July debates, for example, candidates had to hit at least 1% in a series of pre-identified polls and demonstrate that they have gotten donations of at least $1.00 from roughly 65,000 individual donors. For the third and fourth debates, those criteria were doubled to provide that the candidates must his 2% in the respective polls and get donations from roughly 130,000 voters. For the subsequent debates coming in November, December, and January, the criteria ought to be even more stringent. Personally, I’d draw the line at 5% in the polls and minimum of 250,000 cumulative individual donors. This would likely mean that the debates will be limited to Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. Some may call that unfair given the fact that nobody has voted yet but, let’s face it, if you’re still polling below 5% three months before the Iowa Caucuses the odds that you’re going to be a contender for the nomination are about as good as the odds that the New York Jets are going to win the AFC East this season.