Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardRepublicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Gabbard says she 'was not invited to participate in any way' in Democratic convention MORE (D-Hawaii) and Tom SteyerTom SteyerTV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month Inslee calls Biden climate plan 'perfect for the moment' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration finalizes plan to open up Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling | California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump | Democrats use vulnerable GOP senators to get rare win on environment MORE, the billionaire who launched an effort to pressure Congress to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE, are the closest to making the cut for the next Democratic presidential debate.

Only 10 candidates have qualified for the Sept. 12 debate so far, which will not extend to two nights unless at least 11 candidates qualify.

Steyer, the billionaire philanthropist, just needs to register 2 percent support in one more poll to qualify, while Gabbard needs at least 2 percent in two more surveys.

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ABC News, the outlet hosting the Houston debate, said on Wednesday that if more than 10 candidates qualify, they will be divided into two groups. The first debate would be Thursday, Sept. 12, with the second the following night.

Debating on Friday night — and on a Friday the 13th nonetheless — will be considered unlucky by any candidates who fall to the second night. Audiences for the Thursday night debate would be expected to be much larger.

To make the stage in September, candidates have to collect contributions from at least 130,000 unique donors and register at least 2 percent in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The deadline to meet those requirements is Aug. 28.

The 10 candidates who have already met those requirements are former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Biden campaign sells 'I paid more income taxes than Trump' stickers Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Democrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Dwayne Johnson backs Biden in first public presidential endorsement Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker says he will ask Amy Coney Barrett if she will recuse herself from presidential election-related cases Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election The movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangThe shape of guaranteed income Biden's latest small business outreach is just ... awful Doctor who allegedly assaulted Evelyn Yang arrested on federal charges MORE, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBillionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November Buttigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice MORE.

Steyer surpassed the donor threshold last week, following an aggressive — and hugely expensive — advertising campaign urging people to help him make the debate stage.

Steyer’s early fundraising success is due in no small part to his willingness to spend big.

When he announced his candidacy last month, he said that he would spend at least $100 million of his personal fortune on his presidential bid. In his first month on the campaign trail, he dropped roughly $4 million on Facebook and Google advertisements alone, according to digital advertising data compiled by the Democratic digital firm Bully Pulpit Interactive.

He also spent more than $3.7 million on television ads in the first month of his campaign, according to an analysis of Federal Communications Commission filings by the Center for Responsive Politics

Gabbard, who has already hit the 130,000-donor mark and scored her second qualifying poll on Tuesday, is angling to hit 2 percent in two more surveys before the Wednesday qualifying deadline. 

None of the 10 other candidates in the Democratic primary field appear particularly close to making the cut.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election MORE (D-N.Y.) is nearing the DNC’s donor mark, and has spent roughly $2 million in recent weeks on television and digital advertising in an effort to boost her over the threshold. In an email to supporters on Thursday, her campaign said she was 15,000 donors away from meeting the benchmark. She still needs three more polls to qualify. 

For nine other candidates, the debate stage in Houston is even further from their reach. None have reached the 130,000-donor threshold nor have they registered enough support in even a single approved poll. 

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBarr asked prosecutors to explore charging Seattle mayor over protest zone: report Bottom line Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE, who had reached the donor mark but not the polling threshold, dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday amid increasingly bleak prospects of making the next primary debate. And John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Cook Political Report shifts Colorado Senate race toward Democrat Willie Nelson playing at virtual fundraiser for Hickenlooper MORE, the former governor of Colorado, exited the primary field last week amid similar struggles.

To be sure, the DNC’s debate qualifications have not gone without criticism. Some candidates have argued that the committee’s emphasis on amassing donor support has created a dynamic in which the wealthiest or best-financed candidates can essentially purchase small-dollar contributions by pumping large sums of money into advertising and building vast lists of potential donors.

Among the most vocal critics of that requirement is Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockCourt removes Pendley from role as public lands chief On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight MORE, who has previously suggested that debate participation should be based primarily on polling support.

“The thought that you could spend $10 million to get on a debate stage, I don’t think that’s really good for democracy,” Bullock said on "Fox News Sunday" this week, referring to the millions of dollars spent by Steyer in the early weeks of his largely self-funded campaign.

“We should be actually talking to voters,” Bullock added. “Not spending money just trying to get individual donors.”