Democratic debate losers have a new campaign slogan: It’s not fair.
With a fast-approaching deadline Wednesday to qualify for the September debate, the party’s presidential candidates who missed the mark are griping about the Democratic National Committee’s rules.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer all say they’ve been cheated out of a podium.
None of the 10 candidates who made the cut for the debate in Houston are complaining.
Ms. Gabbard’s campaign on Monday said the DNC was too picky about the polls used to determine who gets on stage.
“Rep. Gabbard has exceeded 2% support in 26 national and early-state polls, but only two of them are on the DNC’s ‘certified list,’” her campaign said in a statement.
“Many of the uncertified polls, including those conducted by highly reputable organizations such as The Economist and the Boston Globe, are ranked by Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight as more accurate than some DNC ‘certified’ polls,” it said.
The same complaint came from Mr. Steyer, who is just one qualifying poll away from getting on stage.
He said Democrat voters were the losers as a result of the DNC rules.
“The American people deserve to hear this message in September but are being denied by the lack of recent qualifying polls,” said Steyer campaign manager Heather Hargreaves. “We are calling on the DNC to expand their polling criteria to include more qualifying polling. As a party, we want to ensure the will of the voters is respected.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet blasted the DNC for “arbitrary rules” under which Mr. Steyer was poised to qualify after a month of lavish spending on TV and social media advertising.
“I won’t be stopped by the DNC’s unprecedented and counterproductive process that rewards celebrities, billionaires who can buy their way in,” he fumed in an email to supporters.
Mr. Bullock was more forgiving. He called the rules “well-intentioned” but he fretted that they gave well-heeled candidates such as Mr. Steyer an unfair advantage.
“The Republican Party all throughout 2015 had a 1% threshold. It is a rough day when Democrats are less inclusive than Republicans,” he said on MSNBC.
Now it looks like even Mr. Steyer won’t make the grade.
The DNC raised the bar for the third debate, and at least half the candidates in the race are expected not to qualify.
DNC spokesman Adrienne Watson defended the rules.
“The debate rules have been public for months, and candidates have been given more opportunities and more time to qualify for debates than in previous cycles,” she said.
In the past, polling thresholds were restricted to six weeks of polling or only a handful of approved polls. This time the polling windows have been between two and six months and the approved poll list is longer.
Still, the tougher criteria for the third debate resulted in heartache for some.
The candidates now must meet both polling and donor thresholds, instead of either, and each threshold is higher than it had been.
Candidates now need the 2% in the polls and 130,000 donors across 20 states, up from 1% in polls or 65,000 donors required for the first two debates.
The 10 candidates who appear headed for Houston include former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.