State Watch

Governors pick fights with DNC over 2020 primary debates

Camille Fine
Two governors struggling to stand out in a crowded presidential primary field are focusing their fire on one of the only groups that inspires near-unanimous disdain among progressive activists: the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) have both chastised the DNC in recent days over the party’s handling of its primary debate process and schedule.
Bullock, who entered the race for president in May, has yet to meet the criteria for making the Democratic debate stage later this month. He has reached 1 percent support in three polls, though the DNC said this week it would not count one of those three surveys — an ABC News-Washington Post poll from January.
{mosads}Many outlets, including The Hill, had counted that January survey as one of Bullock’s three qualifying surveys. The DNC has refused to say which specific polls count toward the threshold, though they have identified which polling outfits they consider legitimate.
Bullock has not reached the second threshold — receiving contributions from 65,000 donors across a broad swath of the country.
A week ahead of the debate-qualifying deadline, the polling threshold is the only one Bullock is likely to meet. On Thursday, his campaign cried foul, accusing the DNC of a “secret rule change” that could leave the two-term governor off the debate stage.
The “DNC is singling out the only Democrat who won a Trump state, and potentially blocking him from the debate stage,” campaign manager Jenn Ridder wrote in a memo to reporters. Ridder said the DNC had not shared its rule “in writing with all presidential campaigns.”
The January poll in question is different from others that the DNC will count: It asked voters which candidate they would support without actually offering the candidates’ names — a type of question pollsters call open-ended. The polling criteria released by the DNC on Feb. 14, about three weeks after the ABC-Washington Post poll was conducted, did not specify that open-ended questions would not count.
The DNC said Bullock’s team had been well aware that the January survey did not meet the polling guidelines.
{mossecondads}“We notified the Bullock team in March, so they have known for months,” said Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director.
Bullock’s campaign did not dispute that they had been informed. The campaign said Bullock, who delayed launching his presidential campaign until the Montana legislature adjourned in late April, had achieved policy wins, including an extension of Medicaid expansion, before he announced his White House bid.
“Because Gov. Bullock waited to get into the race until he passed Medicaid expansion for nearly 100,000 Montanans, this effectively punishes Gov. Steve Bullock for doing his job and finishing out his legislative session,” Ridder wrote.
Inslee, meanwhile, has already qualified for the debate stage, both through polling averages and donations received. But he is picking a fight over what he says is the DNC’s refusal to hold an entire debate on the issue driving his campaign: climate change.
The Washington governor has been asking the DNC to hold a debate specifically on climate change for weeks; on Wednesday, the DNC told Inslee’s campaign it would not do so.
“The DNC is silencing the voices of Democratic activists, many of our progressive partner organizations, and nearly half of the Democratic presidential field, who want to debate the existential crisis of our time,” Inslee said Wednesday.
By Thursday, progressive groups like Daily Kos, the Sunrise Movement and MoveOn had all joined Inslee. So did fellow 2020 candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).
“Gov. Inslee is exactly right. Climate change is the biggest challenge we face. Every candidate running for president should have a serious set of policies to address it, and should be eager to defend those proposals in a debate,” Warren wrote on Twitter.
Inslee later called on the rest of the Democratic field to join in.
By picking on the DNC, the two Democratic governors are working a well-worn punching bag that has already been the focus of animus and ire among party activists. Many who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016 remain convinced that the DNC put its thumb on the scale on behalf of his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D), and Sanders backers nearly won control of the committee in 2017.
This time, the unspoken complaint is that the DNC is favoring the party’s current front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaign this week offered a proposal to take on climate change, though over a much longer time frame than Inslee’s plan would.
For some, there is an irony in Inslee and Bullock casting themselves as victims of a sinister party establishment. Both men are former chairs of the Democratic Governors Association, an influential organization at the heart of the Washington establishment.
Tags 2020 Debates Bernie Sanders Climate change Democratic Governors Association Democratic National Committee DNC Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jay Inslee Joe Biden Montana Primary debates Steve Bullock Washington

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