Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE (D-Hawaii) and Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerSteyer: I don't think it's possible to buy the presidency New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE, the billionaire who launched an effort to pressure Congress to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Bernie Sanders tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan If we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Elizabeth Warren tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Warren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIf we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy MORE (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out 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 GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process 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 InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate 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 HickenlooperKrystal Ball dismisses Rahm Emanuel's 'Medicare for All' criticism as a 'corporatist mantra' Trump says remark about Colorado border wall was made 'kiddingly' Colorado governor mocks Trump for saying he's building wall there 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 BullockDeval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Biden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel Press: Another billionaire need not apply 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.”