- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Democrats’ next presidential debate could be much more intimate, with several candidates in danger of missing Friday’s deadline to prove they have enough support to make the stage in what is likely the last big opportunity for prime-time exposure before the Iowa caucus.

Five candidates have qualified, but billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, both of whom were on the stage last month in Los Angeles, are on the verge of getting shut out of Tuesday’s debate.

And Sen. Cory A. Booker and new age author Marianne Williamson, who missed the last debate, are no closer to making next week’s affair.

Mr. Booker, Mr. Yang and Mr. Steyer have met the Democratic National Committee’s threshold of financial support from 225,000 individual donors, but none has met the polling requirement. They are suffering from a dearth of recent surveys, since most pollsters suspend work during the holiday season.

Until CBS released surveys from Iowa and New Hampshire last weekend, there had been an extended drought of qualifying polls since the last debate Dec. 19.

Mr. Yang had tried to get the DNC to conduct its own polling to fill in the gap, saying party officials were effectively shutting out important voices.

“We know a lot can change in a month and a half, and so to me the message to the [Democratic National Committee] should be this is a democracy and we need to hear what the people think,” Mr. Yang said in a recent interview with WMUR in New Hampshire.

The five candidates who have qualified are former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has enough polling support to make the stage but has decided to fund his own campaign, so he is unable to meet the donation requirement. Mr. Bloomberg, who has an estimated net worth of about $56 billion, said that accepting even a $1 donation could be a slippery slope for him.

“You shouldn’t go down that path if you’re in my situation,” he said while campaigning in Virginia this week. “I want to be, as you would say, squeaky clean, and this is a way to show that.”

Analysts said the DNC always meant for the ever-tightening criteria to winnow the field of candidates from the 20 who made the stage across two nights at the first debate.

“The process is not [designed] to have 20 people on a debate stage when we get into January, February and March,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “And you can’t blame the party for how the voters feel.”

DNC Chairman Tom Perez defended the system this week, saying candidates have been given ample time to meet the requirements.

“What we have done is we’ve set forth a clear set of transparent, inclusive rules,” Mr. Perez said on MSNBC. “Nobody who’s been under 5% at this point in a primary has ever won a primary or caucus. We set those rules out in advance. And it’s for the voters to decide.”

Mr. Steyer, Mr. Yang and Mr. Booker need to hit 5% support in at least two more qualifying polls to make the stage next week in Des Moines.

Monmouth University is scheduled to release a poll on New Hampshire on Thursday, giving the candidates a shot in at least one more.

Mr. Bloomberg already has alternate plans for debate night. He’s set to appear on a live version of CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The five senators still in the race could have their own plans upended, should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally transmit the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate, which would start a trial in the upper chamber.

That could pull Mr. Booker, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado off the campaign trail.

Mr. Perez said the party would reschedule the Des Moines debate if it coincides with the trial.

“Obviously if there’s a trial on the 14th, then we’ll move the debate,” he said. “If there’s not, then we’re going to have the debate. At the moment, all systems are go and so we’re going to move forward.”

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