Democrats set their 2020 debate lineups — Biden faces Sanders, while Warren spars with Booker

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

When the GOP faced such a massive field, it relegated the candidates with lower poll standings to what got branded an "undercard" debate. The Democratic National Committee opted not to take that approach. Facing intense scrutiny in the aftermath of a messy 2016 primary, during which the party was accused of tilting the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton, the establishment-favored candidate, the DNC leadership is straining to project inclusivity and transparency.

Hence the lottery -- actually two lotteries, one for candidates above 2% in the polling average, the other for those below, designed to ensure that some from each group will be on stage each night.

Still, some measure of internal strife is inevitable when the stakes are so high. And this debate is no exception.

One hopeful who won't be on the stage is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who joined the race in mid-May. He barely missed the threshold of 1% of support in DNC-approved polls -- nationwide or in early-voting states -- or contributions from at least 65,000 donors. Bullock accused the party of penalizing him for delaying his entry so he could focus on his state's business during its legislative session. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla., also failed to meet the threshold for joining the first debate.

Bullock and the others may make the cut for the next round of debates, in July, but since the DNC has capped the total number of eligible candidates at 20, someone else will get bounced out if they succeed.

Some progressive activists are also protesting that the DNC refused the request of one candidate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, to hold a debate focused exclusively on climate change. Grassroots anger over the refusal was intensified by the party's warning that candidates who participate in an unsanctioned climate debate may not be invited to any of the 11 planned DNC primary debates that will follow the Miami event. The rule is standard protocol for the DNC and had been spelled out to candidates before Inslee made his request.


Candidates are permitted to participate in forums and town halls not sanctioned by the DNC, and progressive groups are working to organize at least one such event focused on climate.

The debate over debates is certain to intensify as the race lumbers on. The barrier to entry will start ratcheting up before the candidates meet for a third debate in September, as the DNC looks to remove the less viable from the stage. Those who aren't registering 2% in the polls by then or raising money from at least 130,000 donors won't make the cut.

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