Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate MORE (D-Hawaii) and Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerGabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Bennet launches first TV ads in Iowa How Tom Steyer wins the presidency MORE, the billionaire who launched an effort to pressure Congress to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border 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 BidenJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Democrats press for action on election security Antitrust enforcers in turf war over Big Tech MORE (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangBiden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? MORE, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? 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 GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions 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 InsleeThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate Left off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa 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 HickenlooperLeft off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa Yang says he would not run as a third-party candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Hurricane Dorian devastates the Bahamas, creeps along Florida coast 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 BullockGabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Partisan divisions sharpen as independent voters fade Jeff Bridges calls for donations to get his 'good buddy' Bullock 'up on that debate stage' 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.”