News that the Democratic National Committee would change its qualifications for the ninth primary debate — essentially eliminating the grass-roots donor requirement and opening up a path for billionaire Mike Bloomberg to make the debate stage — prompted an immediate pushback from several Democratic candidates.
“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,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement. “That’s the definition of a rigged system.”
A spokeswoman for Bennet criticized the DNC for “making these rules up as they go.”
“An arbitrary donor threshold never should have been a requirement to begin with and has resulted in qualified candidates, like Booker and Gillibrand, leaving the race,” Bennet spokeswoman Shannon Beckham said Friday, referring to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Gillibrand ended her campaign last summer, while Booker dropped out of the race on Jan. 13, becoming the latest candidate of color to leave what had started out as a historically diverse primary field.
Addisu Demissie, Booker’s former campaign manager, responded to a hypothetical question Friday about how much money candidates like Booker and Julián Castro had spent “chasing donor thresholds” when they could have been organizing in early states instead. (Castro, who was vying to become the country’s first Latino president, also dropped out of the race in early January.)
“I have been asked what the most significant day of the campaign was and that is hard to do without more perspective than I have (right now),” Demissie tweeted. “But on the list, without question, is May 29, 2019 — when the donor threshold was raised to 130k. That’s all I will say about this today.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), long critical of the debate requirements tweeted, “Billionaire Bloomberg just bought the @DNC. #PayToPlay.”
Bloomberg’s fellow billionaire, Tom Steyer, who has qualified for the debate on Feb. 7 debate but not the one on Feb. 19, called out the DNC for not making similar concessions to keep more candidates of color in the race.
“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,” Steyer said in a statement.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has qualified for at least the next two debates, was similarly critical of the DNC.
“The DNC didn’t change the rules to ensure good, diverse candidates could remain on the debate stage,” Warren said in a tweet. “They shouldn’t change the rules to let a billionaire on. Billionaires shouldn’t be allowed to play by different rules — on the debate stage, in our democracy, or in our government.”
Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, the only remaining African American candidate in the Democratic field, said Friday he understood there had to be a “winnowing.”
“We will do what have to do to compete,” Patrick said.
Buttigieg, who has not qualified for the Feb. 19 debate yet under the new rules, told reporters before a town hall in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that he still believed he would make the stage.
“I’ll leave it to the DNC to set the rules and we compete under them. When the initial rules came out that were focused on grass-roots fundraising, of course, our campaign was focused on the same thing,” Buttigieg said. “Now it sounds like there’s a different focus. We believe that we will qualify. And I think it is important that we have that process where folks have to stand with their competitors and explain why each of us is the best.”
Bloomberg, meanwhile, was happy with the rule changes.
“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 Trump and bring our country together,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.