As if we haven’t had enough drama this week with Iowa’s delayed vote count, there’s also a debate tomorrow in New Hampshire before the primary on Tuesday. It’s going to be a bigger stage, too, with seven candidates — one more than in the Iowa debate last month. The qualification saga for Friday’s event is a bit anticlimactic, though, because it seems as if every candidate will have qualified by Jan. 26. That day, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang got his fourth and final qualifying poll to become the seventh candidate to make the stage. He joins the six contenders who debated last month in Iowa, and it seems unlikely at this point that anyone else will make the cut:
|QUALIFYING POLLS||MET THRESHOLD FOR …|
|CANDIDATE||All ≥5%||EARLY STATE ≥7%||POLLS||225K+ DONORS||1+ IOWA DELEGATES||QUALIFIED|
As a refresher, candidates needed to reach 5 percent support in at least four national polls or early-state surveys in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, or 7 percent support in at least two early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. Candidates qualifying via the polling path also needed at least 225,000 unique donors, including at least 1,000 donors in at least 20 states or territories.1 But regardless of how well they polled, candidates had another way to qualify for this round: winning at least one national delegate via the Iowa caucuses. In this case, that didn’t make a difference, because everyone who got delegates had already qualified via polls and donors.
Instead, the real debate drama may be over the qualification criteria for the next debate in Nevada on Feb. 19, which has already upset some candidates and activists. Most notably, the Democratic National Committee has now abandoned the donor requirement that it had used some variant of for the first eight debates. But while that barrier has been dropped, the polling mark needed for qualification has gotten much higher. Candidates must now reach 10 percent support in at least four national polls or early-state surveys in Nevada and South Carolina, or 12 percent support in at least two early-state polls. They can also qualify if they win at least one national delegate via the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary.
But outrage over the Nevada rules mainly stems from the DNC’s decision to forego the donor requirement, which critics interpret as a way to allow former New York City Mayor Bloomberg to qualify even though he’s self-funding his campaign and, as of the latest Federal Election Commission update, had reported taking $0 in contributions. For its part, the DNC denies that this rule change was made with Bloomberg or any other candidate in mind. “With the primary underway, we are assessing a candidate’s support through a significantly higher polling threshold and through actual election results,” said Adrienne Watson, deputy communications director for the DNC. “We were always planning to do this, we signaled it many times, it is not designed to benefit any one candidate and every candidate has an equal opportunity to qualify.”
It’s worth looking at how much this rule change helps — or doesn’t help — Bloomberg. After all, he isn’t actively competing in the early states, so he’s unlikely to win any delegates there or clear the 12 percent early-state polling threshold, which means he’d need four national polls with at least 10 percent support to qualify. And so far, he has just one qualifying poll. It’s not clear that he can actually get three more in the next two weeks because there’s no guarantee his poll numbers will improve after Iowa and New Hampshire; if anything, his numbers may plateau — or dip — if voters start moving toward candidates who have already won votes. Not to mention, candidates who have won national delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire are guaranteed a spot at the Las Vegas event, which means someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is polling behind Bloomberg nationally, has likely already secured a spot.2 Here are the five contenders in line to be on stage later this month:
|QUALIFYING POLLS||MET THRESHOLD FOR …|
|CANDIDATE||All ≥10%||EARLY STATE ≥12%||POLLS||1+ IA/NH DELEGATES||QUALIFIED|
Despite all the uproar over Nevada’s debate criteria, it might not actually be good for Bloomberg if he qualifies. So far he’s largely been standing on the sidelines of the race spending millions on ads, which hasn’t given other candidates much chance to highlight the parts of his record that may make him less appealing to Democratic voters, including his past support for stop-and-frisk policies that targeted people of color, his party-switching (from Democrat to Republican to independent back to Democrat) and his endorsement of past Republicans such as President George W. Bush. Perhaps qualifying for the debate will put pressure on Bloomberg to participate, giving other Democrats a prime time opportunity to take shots at his vulnerabilities. But it’s not actually clear whether Bloomberg would choose to join the Las Vegas debate even if he did make it — he’s not on the ballot in Nevada and his current strategy seems to be working fairly well for him.
But Nevada is still ages away in primary-time, and we’ve first got a debate tomorrow in New Hampshire that will be the first post-Iowa faceoff. And how the candidates perform on that stage could help determine whether they’ll be around for the Nevada event, regardless of whether Bloomberg is in it or not.