The deadline for candidates to qualify for the next Democratic presidential debate passed at midnight Wednesday. Only 10 made it, narrowing the largest field in history to a more manageable size.
So for now at least, the two-night debates of June and July are gone, since everyone can fit on one stage, one night, for next month’s debate in Houston.
The only real question came in the form of billionaire Tom Steyer, who fell one poll short of qualifying even after spending nearly $12 million on advertising to boost his campaign.
“The field is cut in half overnight, basically. That’s clarifying. It’s important to get all the major candidates on stage together,” said David Brock, a prolific Democratic fundraiser who runs a collection of major Democratic super PACs. “But on the other hand, there’s a lot of chatter about the candidates who got boxed out, they would say unfairly. I think it’s really tough if you’re not in the debate to have any hope.”
As the summer closes, the 2020 race has settled into a more predictable pace. The field includes a few frontrunners, a wider second-tier, and a larger crop candidates barely registering in the polls who are still hoping for a miracle.
While more than 20 candidates are staying in the race, fewer and fewer are staying relevant.
Only three candidates are polling at double digits, they include: Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Just four are averaging support above 2 percent: California Sen. Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else has just around 1 percent or less in polling averages.
Five candidates recently dropped out, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday evening, and more are expected to follow as the prospect of making future debate stages grows dim.
The DNC has said the rules for the debates were intended to make candidates demonstrate the high levels of support they would need to take on President Donald Trump in the general election next year.
“The September threshold is inclusive, transparent and low,” said DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson. “Candidates were given more time and more opportunities to hit the polling threshold than they have had in previous cycles. They had 21 chances to hit just 2 percent support in 4 polls.”