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Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) led several of his fellow 2020 contenders in sending a petition asking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to change its debate qualifications. 

The New Jersey Democrat and eight other presidential candidates urged the DNC to “consider alternative debate qualification standards” for four primary debates scheduled to take place in January and Febraury in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which will host the first four nominating contests of the 2020 primary cycle.

Booker was joined by former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Tom Steyer, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in signing the petition.

“The escalating thresholds over the past few months have unnecessarily and artificially narrowed what started as the strongest and most diverse Democratic field in history before voters have had a chance to be heard,” the candidates said in the memo, which was obtained by The Hill.

“As a result, candidates who have proven both their viability and their commitment to the Democratic Party are being prematurely cut out of the nominating contest before many voters have even tuned in — much less made their decision about whom to support.”

Booker, who has languished in the low and middle tiers of the 2020 primary field and led the charge, failed to qualify for next week’s primary debate and has repeatedly pushed the DNC to ease its donor and polling thresholds.

To have qualified for the December debate, scheduled for Dec. 19, candidates had to amass the support of at least 200,000 unique donors and register at least 4 percent support in four qualifying polls or at least 6 percent support in two approved early voting state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. 

The qualifications for December’s debate winnowed the field, with only Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang making the cut for the event, allowing for only one candidate of color. The field’s diversity was further thrust into the spotlight after Sen. Kamala Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent and the only other candidate of color to qualify for next week’s stage, dropped out of the race.

“While we know this was an unintended consequence of the DNC’s actions, many of the candidates excluded due to these thresholds are the ones who have helped make this year’s primary field historically diverse,” the candidates wrote in the memo. 

“Frankly, that unintended result does not live up to the values of our Democratic Party and it does not serve the best interest of Democratic voters, who deserve to hear from and be able to choose among the best our party has to offer,” they added.

The contenders proposed in the memo that the DNC return to rules it applied to earlier debates that allowed candidates to qualify for the event via either the donor or the polling thresholds rather than both. Such a move could expand the debate stage back to a double-digit number of candidates and would include Booker and Castro, as well as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others.

“Adopting the aforementioned criteria will produce a debate stage that better reflects our party and our country; will recognize a broader definition of what constitutes a viable candidacy, particularly in the early primary and caucus states where strong organization can outweigh media persuasion efforts; and will reflect the practical reality that the polling threshold has proven to be an unreliable metric, with only four national debate qualifying polls released since the last debate,” the candidates wrote.”

“With the holiday season upon us, and a brief qualification window for the January debate, it’s vital to make modifications to qualification criteria now,” they added. “If we are to beat Donald Trump next November, this must be our way forward.”

The DNC defended its handling of the debates, maintaining that it has been transparent and made clear to all the candidates when the thresholds would be raised and by how much.

“The DNC will not change the threshold for any one candidate and will not revert back to two consecutive nights with more than a dozen candidates. Our qualification criteria is extremely low and reflects where we are in the race. Once voting starts in February, our criteria will reflect those contests, which is more than appropriate,” the group said in a statement to The Hill

Updated at 9:02 p.m.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Andrew Yang Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Julian Castro Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg Tom Steyer

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