For both Gabbard and Yang, being excluded from the debate stage could starve their long-shot campaigns of the oxygen that comes with the nationally televised platform — which has helped sustain their small-dollar fundraising and marginal poll numbers — as the rest of the field continues to winnow.

But if one or both qualify, they are likely to get greater shares of the speaking time than ever before. No debate thus far has included fewer than 10 candidates — and even if both Gabbard and Yang qualify, this one would include just 8 participants.

Their fates, however, are stuck in suspended animation. Since the previous debate, on Nov. 20, there have been only two polls conducted by sponsors approved by the Democratic National Committee — a drought deepened by the Thanksgiving holiday, when pollsters typically go dark rather than try to call traveling Americans.