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Democrats come out swinging against new debate criteria

A number of 2020 Democrats came out swinging against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Friday after it unveiled new debate qualifications that could open a path for former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergWhat the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship 5 former Treasury secretaries back Biden's plan to increase tax enforcement on wealthy On The Money: Biden ends infrastructure talks with Capito, pivots to bipartisan group | Some US billionaires had years where they paid no taxes: report | IRS to investigate leak MORE to secure a spot on stage.

The DNC said it would drop the donor threshold for the Feb. 19 primary debate in Nevada. The move could open the door for Bloomberg, a billionaire who is refusing any donations to his White House bid, to win a spot at the event.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Politics of discontent: Who will move to the center and win back Americans' trust? MORE' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign ripped the DNC over its new debate qualifications, saying it is supporting “a rigged system.” 

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“To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong. That’s the definition of a rigged system,” said Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders’s campaign. 

Under the new criteria released Friday, candidates must reach 10 percent support in at least four national polls or 12 percent support in two sanctioned early-state surveys from Nevada and South Carolina. The candidates could also qualify by winning at least one pledged delegate at the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. 

The debates held over the past several months have all included a mandatory donor threshold, a criteria that prevented Bloomberg from winning a spot onstage.

Sanders has focused heavily on underscoring the influence the wealthiest Americans have in politics, repeatedly talking about “millionaires and billionaires” on the campaign trail and proposing a litany of plans intended to close income and other financial gaps. 

Entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangAdams, Garcia lead in NYC mayor's race: poll Mary J. Blige endorses New York City mayoral candidate in new ad Ocasio-Cortez endorses Maya Wiley in NYC mayoral race MORE accused the DNC of ignoring grassroots donations in an explicit attempt to get Bloomberg on the stage, questioning if the former mayor even wanted to debate in the first place.

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"The DNC changing its debate criteria to ignore grassroots donations seems tailor-made to get Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage in February. Having Americans willing to invest in your campaign is a key sign of a successful campaign," he tweeted.

"The truth is I don’t think Mike particularly wants to debate. He could easily have gotten himself onto the stage with the donor requirements."
 
 
Businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerTop 12 political donors accounted for almost 1 of every 13 dollars raised since 2009: study California Democrats weigh their recall options Why we should be leery of companies entering political fray MORE, another billionaire running for president, also commented on the DNC's adjustment, hinting it was working to “accommodate” Bloomberg.

“Let’s make one thing clear: changing the rules now to accommodate Mike Bloomberg and not changing them in the past to ensure a more diverse debate stage is just plain wrong,” he said in a statement. “The Democratic Party should be doing everything possible to ensure a diverse field of candidates. Instead, they are changing the rules for a candidate who is ignoring early states voters and grassroots donors.”

The DNC defended its new criteria, saying that the grassroots enthusiasm that had been measured by the donations will now be measured in voting in caucuses and primaries.

"The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race, when candidates were building their organizations and there were no metrics available outside of polling to distinguish those making progress from those who weren’t," DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

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Bloomberg made a late entry into the primary field, officially launching his campaign in November several months after many of his competitors. He is skipping campaigning for the first four nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and is instead dedicating hundreds of millions of his own dollars to expanding his staffing and blitzing Super Tuesday states with advertising.

Though Bloomberg has not yet met the polling threshold for the Feb. 19 debate, his campaign said it is “thrilled” the nation could have the chance to hear from the former mayor at the event.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE and bring our country together,” said Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager. 

“Mike has run for office three times and never taken a dime from special interests, allowing him to act independently, on the merits, without having to do what donors expect. He is proud to be doing the same with this campaign,” Sheekey said.

Updated at 9:45 p.m.