- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- Several of the Democratic presidential candidates will face a make or break moment during the primary debates later this month.
- The Democratic National Committee’s sanctioned debates set for the fall have much stricter criteria, which many candidates are unlikely to meet.
- Struggling candidates will have to use every chance they can to build momentum or risk disappearing from the race’s biggest stage.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
In order to select which Democratic presidential candidates would appear on stage for the two separate nights of the debates hosted by CNN at the end of the month, they were broken into tiers so that one night would not be lopsided with high-polling, donation-rich candidates all in one place.
For the bottom tier candidates, some of whom who have barely been able to meet the minimum criteria for getting on the debate stage and are in dire risk of not achieving the even tougher qualifications for the September debates, their next time on stage could be a make or break opportunity.
The thresholds for the fall debates are much more difficult than the first two rounds. Candidates will need to reach at least 2% in four separate DNC-approved polls and 130,000 donations from a minimum of 400 unique donors in 20 states.
The top tier of candidates are already there. That includes former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders, as well as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In addition, technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang has qualified for the fall debates.
Not far behind are candidates who might have met one of the polling or donation requirements and are working tirelessly to get to the next milestone. For the members of Congress in the race, the upcoming August recess period will let them traverse the country all they want to shore up donations and grassroots support.
But for the bottom of the list, with candidates like former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, late entrants like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and virtual unknowns like Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, the prospect of staying alive is growing more grim by the day.
Delaney has been running since the summer of 2017, has visited more places in Iowa than any other candidate, but has failed to make even the slightest dent in the 2020 race. He secured a spot on the first debate stage through minimal polling alone, still not having obtained at least 65,000 donations.
On Friday, Axios reported Delaney’s staffers told him to drop out of the race, though his campaign vehemently denied it in a statement, later sending out an advisory for 30 events across Iowa.
Some lower tier candidates have risen rapidly like Buttigieg or built slow progress like tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
But for De Blasio, his polling remains slim, despite a first debate performance that garnered a bit of media buzz. His fundraising has been more abysmal, raising just $1.1 million from 6,700 donations, most of which came after the first debate.
Ryan’s campaign has been just as difficult. The one-time challenger to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grip on the Democratic Caucus raised less than $1 million in the second quarter of 2019 and he routinely checks in at under 1% in major national and early voting state polls.
If candidates are given an equal amount of speaking time at the July debates, the struggling Democrats will have to use that time to the best of their ability and pull off a breakout moment.
That strategy worked in the first debates for former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who went straight for Texas rival Beto O’Rourke. After Castro wowed audiences, his campaign received a massive bump in donations and support, elevating a campaign that had previously been struggling to gain notoriety and attention.
Campaigns do not fail for lack of policy specifics or even lack of charisma. They fizzle out because candidates lose money and cannot gain name recognition.
The debates are the best venue to boost both, which also just so happen to be the two things each candidate need to stay alive. That could add excitement to the July debates, after which the field will almost certainly narrow considerably.