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.
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 ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE.
The debate will be a critical moment for candidates to make inroads on the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown 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 SandersSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Hispanic Caucus lawmaker won't attend meeting with VP Harris's new aide The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegAirlines warn of 'catastrophic' crisis when new 5G service is deployed Buttigieg says parenthood 'lights a fire' The Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Fed's Brainard faces GOP pressure on climate stances MORE (Mass.).
Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' Voting rights is a constitutional right: Failure is not an option Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE (Calif.), who is just behind those candidates in polls, has also met both criteria, as have Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerCNN legal analyst knocks GOP senator over remark on Biden nominee Barnes rakes in almost 0K after Johnson enters Wisconsin Senate race Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (N.J.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice Harry, Meghan push family leave with annual holiday card Overnight Energy & Environment — New York Democrats go after 'peaker' plants MORE (N.Y.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support The Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness Senate antitrust bill has serious ramifications for consumers and small businesses MORE (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe perfect Democratic running mate for DeSantis? Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition MORE (Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeWhat if politicians were required to tell the truth? New Washington secretary of state orders staffers to be vaccinated Conservative Washington state lawmaker dies after positive COVID-19 test MORE, tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangBottom line American elections are getting less predictable; there's a reason for that Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run MORE and author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson: Steven Donziger sentencing is meant to have a 'chilling effect' on environmentalists Marianne Williamson calls federal judge's handling of Steven Donziger case 'unconstitutional' Marianne Williamson calls on Biden to drop efforts to extradite Assange 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 BennetBiden addresses Coloradans after wildfires: 'Incredible courage and resolve' Equilibrium/Sustainability — Mars may start 'terraforming itself' Boulder County picks up pieces after unprecedented wind and firestorm MORE (Colo.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats race to squash Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Biden addresses Coloradans after wildfires: 'Incredible courage and resolve' Equilibrium/Sustainability — Mars may start 'terraforming itself' MORE, former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyMaryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme Warning: Joe Biden's 'eat the rich' pitch may come back to bite you Direct air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy MORE (Md.), New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioWatershed moment in NYC: New law allows noncitizens to vote Hochul calls for permanent legal to-go cocktails in NY Andy Cohen blasts de Blasio during Times Square NYE MORE, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (Ohio) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellThere's no such thing as 'absolute immunity' for former presidents The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden strategizes with Senate Dems The Hill's 12:30 Report: 2021 ends with 40-year inflation high MORE (Calif.).
That leaves Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonUkraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Gallego leads congressional delegation to Ukraine Bill seeks to aid families of Black WWII veterans deprived of GI benefits MORE (Mass.), Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockDark money group spent 0M on voter turnout in 2020 In Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE, Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamKey moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Wayne Messam suspends Democratic presidential campaign 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum 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?
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?
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.
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 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.”