Tempers explode, Democrat candidates balk over debate rules

The field of Democrat candidates running in the 2020 presidential primary has grown so large that the debate qualifications are tightening up. Some candidates are complaining about that while another is angry that one hot button issue won’t receive its own debate.


Montana Governor Steve Bullock is angry that he doesn’t qualify for a spot on the debate stage in the DNC’s first two debates scheduled for June and July. His late entry into the race has hampered his ability to qualify for either of the DNC’s requirements – receive 1% support in three polls from an approved list of pollsters and receive campaign donations from 65,000 unique donors, including 200 donors each from 20 states. That sounds simple enough, right? It should be noted that the candidates don’t have to meet both requirements to qualify to participate in the debate, just meeting one of them is enough. The qualifications will be raised higher to qualify for the third and fourth debates scheduled for September and October.

The DNC announced earlier this year that candidates will qualify for the first two Democratic debates — one in June and one in July — by achieving at least 1% support in three polls from an approved list of pollsters or receiving campaign contributions from 65,000 unique donors, including 200 donors each from 20 different states. The committee recently announced that they were doubling those thresholds for the third and fourth debates — in September and October respectively — requiring candidates to achieve both 2% in four polls from a slightly changed list of approved pollsters and 130,000 unique donors from the date of their campaign’s creation.

Governor Bullock fancies himself a unique candidate in the Democrat field. He’s a Democrat governor of a Trump-loving red state with a Republican majority in the state legislature. He entered the race late due to the fact that the state legislature was in session until almost the end of May and his excuse is that he was just doing his job. He concentrated on pushing through Medicaid expansion instead of committing to his run for the Democrat nomination. Now he has run out of time. He hasn’t met either the polling requirement or the campaign contributions requirement.


“The DNC seems, on paper, interested in a 50-state strategy, but they’re punishing the only candidate in the field to win a Trump state for doing his job,” said Matt McKenna, a longtime Democratic operative who is advising the Bullock campaign. “I can say with 100% certainty that if Gov. Bullock announces in January, to chase after the DNC’s arbitrary and secret rules, there’s no way he gets Medicaid expansion though a 60% Republican legislature.”

Asked about the grassroots fundraising threshold, McKenna added: “I’d say that punishes candidates from the parts of the country you fly over to get from the DNC HQ to Los Angeles.”

The complaint about the fundraising threshold punishing those from flyover country is odd. Candidates from Indiana and Texas, for example, have met the requirements necessary to qualify for the debates. The Bullock campaign runs the danger of just sounding entitled at this point.

Bullock’s campaign points to what they label as a rules change – a secret one at that – about the polling requirement. The DNC, however, claims that the campaign was warned about it as early as March.

One of Bullock’s primary complaints is that a February poll from The Washington Post/ABC News is now being counted under DNC rules because it asked an open-ended question that included a host of names like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.

Bullock’s campaign emailed reporters on Thursday about the poll not being allowed, calling it a “secret rule change for debate qualification.”

“While Governor Bullock was expanding Medicaid to one in ten Montanans despite a nearly 60% Republican legislature, the DNC was making arbitrary rules behind closed doors,” said Jenn Ridder, Bullock’s campaign manager. “The DNC’s unmasking of this rule unfairly singles out the only Democratic candidate who won a Trump state — and penalizes him for doing his job.”


Two other Democrats aren’t going to be on the debate stage. Rep. Seth Moulton and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam. Moulton sounds at peace with the fact that he’ll miss the debate while no one knows who Mayor Messam is, outside of his city. Messam entered the race in March and has been missing in action ever since.

“No, I’m not going to make the first debate, but I knew that getting in so late,” the congressman told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview this week. “But I think that’s OK, that there’s, this first debate’s going to have 20 people. Folks are barely going to get a chance to speak. This is a long campaign. And it’s not going to be decided by the Democratic National Committee in their debates. It’s going to get decided by the American people. And that’s where the response to my campaign has been so positive so far.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is upset that his main focus, climate change, will not have its own debate. Wednesday Inslee blasted the DNC.

“Today, my team received a call from the Democratic National Committee letting us know that they will not host a climate debate. Further, they explained that if we participated in anyone else’s climate debate, we will not be invited to future debates,” Inslee said in a statement.

“This is deeply disappointing. The DNC is silencing the voices of Democratic activists, many of our progressive partner organizations, and nearly half of the Democratic presidential field, who want to debate the existential crisis of our time. Democratic voters say that climate change is their top issue; the Democratic National Committee must listen to the grassroots of the party,” Inslee added.


The DNC doesn’t want to hold single topic debates, which I think is a wise decision. I mean, these things can be boring enough without the added potential of only yammering about one topic.

“While climate change is at the top of our list, the DNC will not be holding entire debates on a single issue area because we want to make sure voters have the ability to hear from candidates on dozens of issues of importance to American voters,” she said in a statement to the Hill.

I would say to Governor Inslee that this is the risk he took when he decided to focus only on one issue. While the majority of Democrat voters consider a policy on climate change as an important factor in picking a candidate, there are other issues of importance, too. And as recent headlines have shown, we all know that abortion is the ultimate litmus test for Democrat candidates.

The Democrat field is huge. None of them are going to be able to speak very much during the debates, at least until the herd is thinned. Whining about the very first and most basic qualifications seems petty. If a candidate can’t raise money and get himself enough publicity to be recognizable to the general public, how will that candidate possibly be able to win a general election? Pass the popcorn.

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