Democratic debate deadline: What we know and don't know

Questions about the first Democratic presidential debate are swirling ahead of Wednesday’s qualifying deadline.

Only 20 candidates will make the stage for the June 26-27 debate, which will be spread out across two days with 10 candidates on each night.

It’s unclear who will debate whom, or how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will make some of its final calls on the placement of candidates. The DNC has not announced when it will disclose the final list of 20 debate participants, but one campaign source said it could come Friday.

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The deadline to qualify is midnight Wednesday and candidates have until 11 a.m. Thursday to provide certification to the DNC.

All of this ensures more scrutiny for the DNC, which faced accusations in 2016 of tipping the scales for eventual nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE.

The debate will be a critical moment for candidates to make inroads on the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Trump: Giuliani to deliver report on Ukraine trip to Congress, Barr MORE. The DNC has said it will spread the field out so that higher-polling candidates appear on both nights, and there is no perception of a “junior” debate. That means some top candidates won’t have the chance for a face-to-face encounter with Biden.

The candidates who don’t qualify will likely find their campaigns on life support, struggling for new donations and media attention in the crowded field of 24 people.

The first debates will air on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

Here’s a look at everything we know — and don’t know — about how it’s shaping up:

 

Who has qualified?

Twenty candidates are expected to qualify, either by having received donations from 65,000 unique donors in at least 20 states or by reaching 1 percent support in three sanctioned polls.

Fourteen candidates have met both standards, including Biden and the three candidates closest to him in national polls and early voting states: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Chicago Mayor Lightfoot to Buttigieg: 'Break that NDA' to have 'moral authority' against Trump Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (Mass.).

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBooker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Yang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations MORE (Calif.), who is just behind those candidates in polls, has also met both criteria, as have Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (N.J.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day MORE (N.Y.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down MORE (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardBiden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE (Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeFight against flavored e-cigarettes goes local Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate MORE, tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Biden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events MORE and author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonDemocrats take in lobbying industry cash despite pledges Chicago suburb to use recreational marijuana sales tax to fund reparations program: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE.

They’ll likely be guaranteed a spot on the stage and could be joined by six others who have met just the polling threshold: Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates MORE (Colo.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment enters new crucial phase Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate 2020 hopes rise for gun control groups after Virginia elections MORE, former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyDelaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates 2020 Democrats thank Harris for friendship, candidacy after senator drops out MORE (Md.), New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioMayor accuses de Blasio of dumping New York's homeless in Newark Conservatives must absolutely talk politics at the Thanksgiving table Booker campaign announces six-figure ad buy to qualify for December debate MORE, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanGM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio San Francisco 49ers suspend announcer after reference to quarterback's 'dark skin' More than 100 Democrats sign letter calling for Stephen Miller to resign MORE (Ohio) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Democrats debate scope of impeachment charges MORE (Calif.).

That leaves Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonDeval Patrick beefs up campaign staff Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Pardoning war crimes dishonors the military MORE (Mass.), Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow? MORE, Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamWayne Messam suspends Democratic presidential campaign 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum The Memo: What the leading 2020 Dems need to do MORE and former Sen. Mike Gravel (Alaska) on the outside looking in, unless they meet the polling or fundraising thresholds by the end of the day on Wednesday.

 

Could that change?

Absolutely.

The DNC has the final say on who qualifies, and while they’ve announced the outlets who can produce sanctioned polls, the specific polls that will count remain a mystery.

That has already led to some controversy.

Bullock’s campaign accused the DNC of a “secret rule change” after the committee announced that it would exclude open-ended polls from the qualification criteria, thereby eliminating a January Washington Post–ABC News poll that showed Bullock with 1 percent support.

Without that poll, Bullock would not qualify for the debate stage. The DNC has said it notified the Montana governor’s team in March that the Post–ABC poll wouldn’t be included, a statement that Bullock’s campaign hasn’t denied.

And the DNC is committed to keeping the debate stage at only 20 contenders. That means that if 21 people qualify, tiebreakers will be implemented, potentially bumping someone off the stage.

Priority will go first to those who meet both the fundraising and the polling criteria.

After that, the DNC will rank the contenders by polling average to determine the final spots, with the final tiebreaker going to the candidates with the most individual donors.

 

Which night will the candidates appear on stage?

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The DNC will hold a random drawing on Friday morning at NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City to determine where the candidates are placed on stage and which night they’ll appear.

It’s unclear whether the proceedings will be televised or streamed online, but representatives from the campaigns have been invited to witness the drawing.

To ensure that there is no appearance of an undercard debate, the DNC will divide up the highest polling and lowest polling candidates so that they’re evenly dispersed on each night.

The results are expected to be announced shortly after the drawing.

 

What’s next?

The candidates who don’t qualify for the first debate will be looking for different ways to stand out, potentially holding their own events around the time of the debate.

However, the candidates who don’t qualify won’t be able to hold their own debate, as the DNC has instituted a rule saying that if candidates participate in unsanctioned forums they’ll be barred from future debates.

The same qualifying criteria — 65,000 donors from 20 states and 1 percent support in three polls — will apply for the second debate, which will take place in Detroit in late July and will be hosted by CNN. The lineup for next month’s debates will be announced at a later date.

The DNC will double the thresholds to qualify for the debate after July, requiring candidates to have received 130,000 individual donations and poll at 2 percent in three sanctioned polls.

There has been some griping from the low-polling candidates that the DNC is actively winnowing the field by implementing stringent qualifying thresholds. Some are accusing the national party of putting its thumb on the scale, which echoes allegations from 2016 that the DNC favored Clinton over Sanders.

But national Democrats have largely been supportive of the DNC’s efforts so far in handling the massive field of contenders, and many are eager to see the size of the field shrink to a more manageable number.

“People have to demonstrate progress and those that do will stay on the debate stage,” DNC Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE told The Hill in a recent interview. “Those that don’t, won’t.”