With just over a week to go before qualifying ends for the fourth Democratic presidential candidate debate, to be held in October, the Democratic National Committee has announced new, higher qualifications for its November debate (place and time still TBD). Since every candidate who qualified for the September event in Houston automatically made the cut for October, this could be the first “winnowing” measure in a good while.
The thresholds for “grassroots fundraising” didn’t change that much: Candidates must now show they have at some point in the cycle raised money from 160,000 donors (as opposed to 130,000, previously) with at least 600 (previously 400) in 20 states. While the new thresholds could distort fundraising efforts for more marginal candidates, it’s unlikely any of those on the October stage will fall off in November because of fundraising — unless they just run out of money and drop out of the race (as Cory Booker’s campaign has said might happen to him if it doesn’t reach its third-quarter money goals).
Nor will the new polling requirements (3 percent in four specified national or early state polls, or 5 percent in two early state polls, beginning with polls taken last week and running until seven days before the November debate) represent a problem for the stronger candidates, who almost always poll above three percent (a group that currently includes Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. But some next-tier hopefuls could experience some problems. There have been only three qualifying debates so far: two national surveys (NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Fox News) and one from Iowa (Ann Selzer’s poll for the Des Moines Register, CNN, and Mediacom). Booker has met the new threshold in two of them; Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, and Andrew Yang have met it in one. October debate qualifier Tom Steyer and possible qualifier Tulsi Gabbard haven’t met any so far; nor have the other candidates who failed to qualify for September.
The new higher but narrower qualifying option for early-state polls is probably tailor-made for Steyer, who can just pick a state or two and spend tens of millions of dollars on ads there. It could also help Klobuchar, who’s predictably doing better in Iowa than she is nationally or in other early states.
All in all, the new qualifying thresholds are mostly of interest to those who are shrieking in anguish at the likely reappearance of a second debate night in October. The odds are reasonably good that at least one or two October qualifiers won’t make it past the higher thresholds and will put the debate stage far beyond reach of the bottom-feeders who stubbornly refuse to drop out. Maybe for its next debate, in December, the DNC could help us out by administering a lie-detector test to see which candidates really believe they have a prayer of finishing in the top six or so in Iowa.