The December Democratic debate stage is back down to six contestants following Kamala Harris’ surprise withdrawal from the race today. But there’s several who could still slide in under the deadline to qualify. Tom Steyer did it just today by acquiring the number of individual donors needed; he already had four qualifying polls.
Here’s where it gets important for Iowans: given the recent shakeups in the race, it wouldn’t be a surprise if new polls were quickly conducted to see where the race stands now. Any of those poll results could be the one needed to push a candidate on the cusp of the December debate right into it.
Who could still make it?
Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard both have three of four qualifying polls, along with the number of donors needed. Cory Booker has passed the donor threshold, but none of the qualifying polls yet. He has come agonizing close several times, hitting 3% in a couple recent early state surveys. Julian Castro, who already missed the last debate, hasn’t hit the donor number yet, so it’d be rather difficult for him to still accomplish both.
How does a candidate qualify?
You need at least 200,000 unique donors and either 1) four qualifying early state or national polls where you’re at 4% or more, or 2) two early state polls where you’re at 6%. Polls conducted between October 16 and December 12 will be accepted, so time is quickly running out.
Of those just outside the debate stage, only Gabbard has hit 6% in an early state poll, but getting there is more likely now for other candidates as the field continues to narrow. Still getting four qualifying polls at this point for Booker might be difficult, but a 6% in an early state poll isn’t outside the realm of possibilities.
What does this mean for Iowans?
Let’s say your phone happens to ring over the next few days and it’s someone polling the Democratic field for the Iowa Caucus. You might already be supporting one of the leading candidates. But if you think any of the above candidates still deserve a chance to make their case on the national stage at the next debate, well, maybe you say that candidate is your first choice. Your one response may be what pushes that candidate up just a fraction of a percent and onto the debate stage.
With Harris’ departure, many people are pointing out that the current December debate stage lineup is all white people. If any of the three candidates closest to qualifying — Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard or Andrew Yang — make it there, that is no longer the case. If you think any of those three are particularly compelling candidates with important voices, you can help keep them in contention.
It probably doesn’t need to be said how difficult a campaign gets if you’re not on the debate stage. Kirsten Gillibrand dropped out when it became clear in the summer she wouldn’t make the September one.
Even the process of just getting there has undermined extremely capable candidates. The donor threshold has forced campaigns to dump a significant amount of their campaign cash into chasing after $1 donations. Simply having an undercard debate would have mitigated this, but DNC leaders were insistent on a process that would narrow the field before anyone voted — and before many voters had even tuned in.
That hasn’t just reduced Iowans’ voices in the process. It’s lessened everyone’s.
The DNC has played their games with their debate rules to try to mold the nomination race more to their liking. It’s time for Iowans to play that game right back.
by Pat Rynard