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Who’s In And Who’s Out Of The Second Democratic Debate

UPDATE (July 17, 2019, 6:20 p.m.): On Wednesday, CNN, which is hosting the second debate, announced that the 20 candidates listed below had qualified for the second debate, later this month. The candidates also learned on Wednesday that the random draw will be split into three separate draws to determine the lineups for each night. The DNC and CNN did not specify what polls they used to establish the cutoffs for each grouping, but below is a list of the three groups the candidates will be drawn from:

  • The first draw includes 10 candidates: Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan and Marianne Williamson.
  • The second draw includes six candidates: Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang.
  • The final draw includes four candidates: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Today is the last day for polls that can affect who qualifies for the second 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate, which is now just two weeks away. While the Democratic National Committee will release the final list of qualifying candidates Wednesday, we’ve taken a look at which candidates look set to make the debate stage in Detroit on July 30-31. (But remember, a new qualifying poll could still drop later today, so be sure to check back; we’ll update if anything changes.)

By our count, 21 candidates have qualified for the second debate by getting either 1 percent support in at least three qualifying national or early-state polls (conducted by different pollsters or in different geographies) or 65,000 unique donors (including at least 200 individual donors in at least 20 states).1 This means that there is one too many candidates for the second debate — the DNC has capped participation at 20 candidates — but there’s not much suspense as to who’s out. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel will not make the stage, even though he reportedly has hit the donor threshold, because the DNC’s tiebreaker rules favor those who’ve met the polling requirement, and he’s the only candidate who has qualified via donors alone. And at this point, it’s more or less impossible for Gravel to meet the polling requirement because he needs not one but two more surveys to qualify via the polls.

Which candidates are in line to make the July debate?

Democratic presidential candidates by whether and how they have qualified for the second primary debate, as of July 16

Qualified Via
Candidate Polls Donors
Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Pete Buttigieg
Julian Castro
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kamala Harris
Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang
Michael Bennet
Steve Bullock
Bill de Blasio
John Delaney
John Hickenlooper
Tim Ryan
Mike Gravel
Seth Moulton
Joe Sestak

For candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify via polling, a candidate must reach 1 percent in at least three national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. To qualify via donors, a candidate must have at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 states. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign reached 65,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 200 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well. Candidates will have to prove to the DNC that they have met the donor requirements.

Source: Polls, Media Reports

Although Gravel’s drive for 65,000 donors became something of a cause célèbre on Twitter, the former senator has had only one qualifying poll in all of 2019. Some surveys haven’t even listed him as an option for respondents to choose from. But the fact that his campaign has struggled to attract support isn’t all that surprising given he isn’t campaigning vigorously — he has even described his bid as a “patio campaign” — not to mention that his operation is primarily managed by two teenagers.

But there will be one newcomer who didn’t make the stage last time — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Bullock qualified via the polling requirement, hitting 1 percent in five qualifying polls by four different pollsters. (And thanks to Rep. Eric Swalwell dropping out of the race last week, there wasn’t even the need for a three-way tiebreaker for Bullock to make the cut.)

However, including Gravel, there were two other “major” candidates — based on FiveThirtyEight’s criteria — who also failed to qualify for the second debate. Neither Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton nor former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak had the necessary donors or even a single qualifying poll, although Sestak has only been in the race since June 23. Moulton, however, has less of an excuse, having declared his candidacy back in April. Additionally, the latest entrant to the race, billionaire Tom Steyer (who declared on July 9 and is not yet a “major” candidate by our guidelines), didn’t make the cut either.

But it’s not just which 20 candidates make the debate, it’s also a matter of which 10 candidates are on stage each night. We saw just how important debate lineups can be in the first debate, when California Sen. Kamala Harris made waves with her remarks about former Vice President Joe Biden. CNN is hosting the second debate and, according to the DNC, will announce later this week how it will draw the debate fields. So it’s not clear if the draw will be completely random or, as with the first debate, if the organizers will divide the field into two pots based on the candidates’ standing in the polls and then draw each night’s field from those groups. But however it sets things up, CNN has decided to conduct a live draw Thursday to determine who is on stage each night, so the selection of the debate lineup promises to be a spectacle at the very least.

Regardless of who gets drawn into which lineup, the second debate will be especially pivotal for all of the low-level candidates. These contenders will need to make a splash to give themselves a chance, especially as it’s much more difficult to qualify for the third debate: The DNC’s rules require candidates to hit 2 percent in four qualifying polls and attract 130,000 individual donors to make the September event.

That means this could be the last time we see many of these candidates on the debate stage, as it’ll be a struggle for many candidates to meet both the polling and donor marks required for entry into the third debate — only six have qualified so far. And failing to make the September debate could doom a candidate, so the second debate might mark the last major opportunity to alter the trajectory of many 2020 campaigns.

Footnotes

  1. We rely on self-reported figures from the campaigns for the fundraising numbers, and we’ve assumed that candidates who’ve reported having at least 65,000 donors also have at least 200 donors from each of 20 states, though it’s possible that some of them haven’t hit that mark yet.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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