DNC Debate Requirements Will Likely Reduce Number Of Candidates On Stage

May 29, 2019
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In about a month, as many as 20 Democratic presidential candidates will gather on a very crowded stage, split over two nights, for their first debate. The stage might be less crowded this fall. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, the Democratic National Committee is making it harder for candidates to qualify for debates beginning in September.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: During the 2016 campaign, the Republican National Committee and TV networks dealt with a very large field by dividing debates into a varsity and a JV debate, or a cocktail hour and dinner, or an undercard and main fight. Just pick your favorite metaphor.

Here's CNN's Wolf Blitzer introducing one of those early debates.

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WOLF BLITZER: We've divided the large field into two groups based on their ranking.

DETROW: DNC chair Tom Perez says one of his main goals was to avoid that awkward divide, especially since it's an even larger field this time. So next month, the top eight polling candidates will be split up over two nights of back-to-back debates.

TOM PEREZ: So four of those top eight go on Night 1. The other four go on Night 2 and the same thing with the other 12.

DETROW: That assumes all 20 spots will be filled by qualified candidates. The DNC set bars candidates need to clear to make the stage. They need to register at at least 1% in specific polls and also have at least 65,000 donors spread across 20 states. The reason for the donation hurdle...

PEREZ: I firmly believe that the next nominee on the Democratic side needs to really work hard to engage the grassroots, and so we wanted to incentivize that.

DETROW: The requirement led to candidates like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker asking for really small contributions just to gain that donor total.

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CORY BOOKER: We need folks to pitch in $1. Can you pitch in $1 today?

DETROW: Now, expect to see way more of those fundraising requests on social media. The DNC is doubling its requirements for its fall debates. Instead of polling at 1%, candidates will need to hit 2%. They'll need 130,000 donors instead of 65,000. And instead of needing to hit just one of those marks, they'll need to meet both. Looking at where the polls are now, that would cut the number of qualified candidates in half. That could mean just one night for the September debate.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.