Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardYang qualifies for New Hampshire debate stage Poll: Bernie Sanders holds 9-point lead in New Hampshire The establishment scam of 'unity' MORE (D-Hawaii) and Tom SteyerTom Fahr SteyerYang qualifies for New Hampshire debate stage Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Poll: 68 percent of Democrats say it 'makes no difference' if a candidate is a billionaire MORE, the billionaire who launched an effort to pressure Congress to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir 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 BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Black caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to Trump tweet, Senate trial witnesses MORE, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Buttigieg on polarization: 'We don't have to choose between being bold and being unified' Buttigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 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 GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial 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 InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 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 HickenlooperFor a healthy aging workforce policy, look to Colorado Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 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 BullockBrent Budowsky: Bloomberg should give billion to Democrats Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive 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.”