Key questions in final hours before Democratic debate deadline

With just hours left to qualify for the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston, 11 candidates are at serious risk of failing to make it to the stage.

Ten candidates have already qualified for the debate, set for Sept. 12. But the clock is ticking for those that haven’t yet made the cut, and they’re aware of the risks that being shut out from the debate would likely carry.

ADVERTISEMENT

The candidates have until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to meet the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) requirements for participating in the debate, though for many it appears all but certain they’ll fall short.

What’s different this time?

Unlike the qualifying rules for the first two debates, which required candidates to amass support from 65,000 unique donors or notch at least 1 percent in three DNC-approved polls, the candidates face a steeper climb to make the stage in Houston.

The qualifying minimums have essentially been doubled: candidates have to collect contributions from 130,000 unique donors and register 2 percent in four approved polls.

The third debate could also be the first of the cycle to take place on a single night. Both the first and second debates spanned two days due to the large number of candidates that made the stage. But if the number of qualified candidates stays at 10, the third debate will be a one-night event.

If that number creeps up to 11 or more, however, the third debate will take place on Sept. 12 and 13.

Who’s already qualified?

So far, 10 candidates have made the cut for the September debate: former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGiuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it Trump whistleblower complaint involves Ukraine: report MORE; Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Krystal Ball calls on Sanders to follow Yang's lead on war on drugs Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all MORE (I-Vt.); Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all Sanders hits 1 million donors MORE (D-Mass.); Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTwo former Congressional Black Caucus chairmen back Biden Strippers, 'Hustlers' and the Democratic debates 2020 Dems honor Emily Clyburn MORE (D-Calif.); South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum MORE; Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Two former Congressional Black Caucus chairmen back Biden Strippers, 'Hustlers' and the Democratic debates MORE (D-N.J.); Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas Harris revamps campaign presence in Iowa Sanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues MORE (D-Minn.); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangKrystal Ball calls on Sanders to follow Yang's lead on war on drugs Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Again, DNC debate moderators fail to ask about democracy issues MORE and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Who’s at risk of missing it?

Eleven candidates have yet to meet the DNC’s qualifications: billionaire philanthropist Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerSanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall New poll finds Biden, Warren in virtual tie in Iowa MORE; Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardKavanaugh book author on impeachment calls: 'That's not our determination to make' Trump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy Beto needs to revive talk about his 'war tax' proposal MORE (D-Hawaii); Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTwo years after Maria, Puerto Rico awaits disaster funds Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' MORE (D-N.Y.); Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWilliamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system Bennet: 'This generation has a lot to be really angry at us about' Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' MORE (D-Colo.); Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockNew poll finds Biden, Warren in virtual tie in Iowa Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Partisan divisions sharpen as independent voters fade MORE; Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanWilliamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system Overnight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum MORE (D-Ohio); former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyWilliamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system The Hill Interview: Sanford says Trump GOP doing 'serious brand destruction' Krystal Ball: Reality debunks Biden's 'Medicare for all' smear MORE (D-Md.); New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Nearly 60 US mayors pen op-ed backing Buttigieg's 2020 bid Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate MORE; bestselling author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonOvernight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Williamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system Overnight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks MORE; former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 10 points in Florida Nearly 60 US mayors pen op-ed backing Buttigieg's 2020 bid The Hill's 12:30 Report: House panel approves impeachment powers MORE.

While most of those candidates are all but certain to fall short when the Wednesday qualifying deadline hits, at least three of them have already met the donor requirement.

Who’s close to qualifying?

Out of all the candidates who haven’t yet made the stage, Steyer is undoubtedly the closest. He’s already surpassed the 130,000-donor threshold and needs to meet the minimum 2 percent support in only one more poll to qualify.

Two other candidates, Gabbard and Williamson, have also met the donor requirements. The polling benchmark may be a bit harder for them to achieve, however. Gabbard needs to score two more qualifying surveys to make the cut, while Williamson is still three polls short.

Gillibrand is the only other candidate with at least one qualifying poll under her belt. She hasn’t yet hit the donor threshold, but she’s close; in an email to supporters on Tuesday, her campaign said she needed fewer than 15,000 unique donors to hit the DNC benchmark.

What’s at stake for the candidates who miss the debate?

In short: opportunity.

The debates are a chance for candidates to pitch themselves to voters nationwide and distinguish themselves from their competitors, all without having to pay for airtime on television.

Some candidates have gotten boosts from the debates in the past. Harris, for example, soared in the polls after she confronted Biden over his past opposition to school busing in the first round of Democratic debates in June. Castro also jolted his campaign in that debate with a well-received performance on immigration.

Several candidates have also reported fundraising swells in the wake of the first two debates. After a standout performance in last month’s debate in Detroit, Booker saw his best day of fundraising of the 2020 cycle, according to his campaign. Delaney’s campaign said the same after the second debate.

Are there any complaints with the qualifying requirements?

A handful of candidates have raised concerns with the DNC’s handling of the primary debates, voicing frustration with everything from the donor requirement to the committee’s list of approved pollsters.

No candidate has been more vocal in his criticisms than Bullock. He vented anger with the DNC in the lead-up to the first debate in June after the committee announced that it would not count a specific Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed him at 1 percent support, because it was based on an open-ended question.

More recently, he has griped that the DNC’s donor requirement essentially allows wealthy or better-funded candidates to purchase unique donors using pricey digital operations, pointing to Steyer as an example. In the less than two months since he launched his campaign, Steyer has spent more than $10 million on digital and television advertisements.

Gabbard has also complained about a lack of “transparency” in the DNC’s process for selecting which pollsters will count toward the qualifying criteria. In an email to reporters last week, her campaign insisted that she had registered 2 percent in 26 national and early state polls, but that the DNC’s rules meant that only two of them would count.

Can candidates who miss the third debate still make the fourth?

Candidates who fail to make the September debate will likely get a few extra weeks to qualify for the fourth debate in October.

The qualifying window for both events opened on June 28, but a DNC memo sent to the campaigns earlier this month said that the deadline to qualify for the fourth debate will be two weeks before it begins.

That means that candidates who haven’t yet made the cut will have some extra time to rack up donations and polling support, while those who have already qualified for the September debate will automatically qualify for the one in October.