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 ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump rally: 'The time has come again' to fight for democracy Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks' MORE.

The debate will be a critical moment for candidates to make inroads on the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Can Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged? Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time 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 Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP 2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Trump blasts 2020 Dems during campaign rally MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew CDC overdose estimates are nothing to celebrate 2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Democratic Houston councilwoman announces Senate bid MORE (Mass.).

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE (Calif.), who is just behind those candidates in polls, has also met both criteria, as have Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (N.J.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally First responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (N.Y.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardBullock makes CNN debate stage Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Jack Dorsey maxes out donations to Tulsi Gabbard presidential bid MORE (Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert Inslee2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress 2020 Democratic candidates rip Trump remarks at campaign rally MORE, tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew Yang2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally 2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE and author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Bullock makes CNN debate stage Williamson defends her views on vaccines 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 BennetNew CDC overdose estimates are nothing to celebrate Bullock makes CNN debate stage Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up MORE (Colo.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperMoulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up MORE, former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyMoulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up MORE (Md.), New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de Blasio2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John Ryan2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE (Ohio) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE (Calif.).

That leaves Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur Moulton2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally 2020 Democratic candidates rip Trump remarks at campaign rally Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (Mass.), Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE, Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamMoulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage Top Democrats who could win presidential nomination 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.”