The governor of Montana, a Massachusetts congressman and the mayor of a midsize Florida city failed to qualify for the first presidential primary debates of the 2020 cycle, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday.
Twenty other candidates will take the stage June 26 and June 27 in Miami for a sprawling set of debates spread over two nights, formally kicking off a nomination process 222 days before the first caucus is scheduled in Iowa.
Debate hosts NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo have invited representatives from the campaigns who made the cut to a drawing midday Friday in Manhattan to sort out who will appear onstage each night, according to two officials familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting had not been publicly announced. The selection process, which will not be televised, will first sort candidates polling at 2 percent or higher over the two nights, with a separate drawing for those with lower polling numbers.
The only three major candidates to miss the cut are Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam.
“I knew that getting in the race so late there was a strong chance I’d miss the first debate,” Moulton wrote to supporters before the announcement. “But fear not! I’m not losing any sleep over it, and neither should you. This race is a marathon, not a sprint.”
The party rules for the June debate required candidates to score at least 1 percent in three party-approved public polls or receive contributions from 65,000 donors by Wednesday to qualify for the first debate. Twenty-one candidates claimed to meet the polling threshold, and 14 said they have met the donor threshold.
But the DNC announced this month that one of the polls that was originally approved in published rules, conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, would not be counted toward the totals, given that it had used open-ended questions to measure support among Democratic candidates.
As a result, Bullock, who received 1 percent in that poll and two other surveys, was not able to qualify for the debates, despite protests by his campaign. His campaign manager, Jennifer Ridder, wrote to the DNC on Wednesday that there was “no sufficient warrant to exclude such a poll in either of the original rules or in the Polling Method Certification form” distributed by the DNC.
Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez said Bullock was informed in March that the open-ended poll, in which President Trump tied for third place at 4 percent with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont among Democratic-leaning adults, would not be counted. (Most Democrats did not volunteer support for any specific candidate at that time.) Recent national Gallup polls show Trump’s approval among Democrats is about 8 percent.
“If you want evidence of a poll that is not methodologically sound to see who Democrats want to be the nominee, I think Donald Trump coming in fourth is a pretty good indicator,” Perez said in an interview Thursday.
Next month, candidates will have to submit a new set of polling and donor information to qualify for the July 30 and July 31 debates. If more than 20 qualify, a runoff will be held, giving preference to those who have met both the polling and donor thresholds and those with higher polling.
After a break from debates in August, the September gatherings will present a more difficult challenge. Candidates will have to earn at least 2 percent support in four party-approved polls between late June and August. In addition, they will have to show that they have attracted at least 130,000 donors since the start of the campaign, including at least 400 contributors each from a minimum of 20 states.
By requiring a combination of grass-roots donations and polling, Perez is preparing to effectively cast out candidates who fail to make the cut by summer’s end. That may be a relief to Democratic voters, many of whom complain about the field’s massive size, but the plan has raised objections among several campaigns that are polling in the bottom half of the field.
Perez has said he intends to approve a total of 12 debates, including one each month this year starting in June, except for August.