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CNN Debate Lottery Reflects New Structure of 2020 Democratic Race

The second round of debates probably won’t feature Beto O’Rourke at center stage. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We’re getting some details concerning CNN’s live reveal show for its lottery determining how Democratic candidates will be divided up during the second round of debates on July 30 and 31 in Detroit. The network and its DNC partners are acknowledging that the race has evolved into three distinct tiers of candidates in recent weeks:

[T]he random draw will be split into three parts to determine the lineups for each debate night. CNN and the DNC said they decided to establish three groupings “to ensure support for the candidates is evenly spread across both nights.” Public polling was used to decide each grouping, CNN and DNC officials said.

The First Draw will include 10 candidates: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and author Marianne Williamson.

The Second Draw will include six candidates: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and businessman Andrew Yang.

The Final Draw will include four candidates: Former Vice President Joe Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

As you may recall, the random drawing for assignments in the first round of debates in Miami last month utilized just two “pools,” which led to Biden, Harris, Sanders, and Buttigieg (then polling a bit better than he is now) being clustered on night two, while Warren’s top-polling challenger on night one was the steadily fading Beto O’Rourke. With Biden, Harris, Sanders, and Warren now dominating the field and the competition among them growing more intense, it made sense to reduce the odds of an unbalanced roster for either debate. Overall, the only change in the ranks of the 20 debate participants is that Montana Governor Steve Bullock has replaced Eric Swalwell, who withdrew earlier this month.

The drawings will be televised on CNN at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. Sounds like it will offer the kind of drama only hard-core political junkies can savor:

During each draw, cards with a candidate’s name will be placed into a dedicated box, while a second box will hold cards printed with the date of each night. For each draw, the anchor will retrieve a name card from the first box and then match it with a date card from the second box.

Once the draw is completed Thursday night, CNN will announce the podium positions — based upon public polling — for each debate night.

Be still, my heart.

CNN Debate Lottery Reflects Changing Structure of 2020 Race