Election 2020 Nevada

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees public service forum in Las Vegas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

Ten candidates now appear to have qualified for the September Democratic presidential primary debate stage in Houston, and so far Colorado's Michael Bennet is not among them.

If the qualification total holds at 10, all the candidates will appear on the same stage on Sept. 12.

But if one more qualifies, the Democratic National Committee will add a second debate night on Sept. 13. That would provide more speaking time for each candidate, a marked change from the 10-person match-ups in Miami from June 26 to 27 and Detroit on July 30 and 31.

With a total of 20 candidates spread over two nights, each aspirant fought to be heard.

As things stand now, the 10 candidates who appear to have qualified for the September debate, hosted by ABC in partnership with Univision, are:

  •     Former Vice President Joe Biden
  •     New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  •     South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  •     Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
  •     California Sen. Kamala Harris
  •     Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  •     Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  •     Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  •     Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  •     Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Candidates who have not yet announced reaching 130,000 donors or received any qualifying polls include Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who did not appear in either the June or July debates.

Beyond the 10 qualifiers to date, billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions advocating for President Trump's impeachment, is closest to qualifying. Though he entered the race later than all the other candidates, he has spent millions of dollars on digital and television advertising and is just one more 2% qualifying poll away from making the debate stage.

Candidates need at least 130,000 donors and 2% or more support in at least four DNC-approved polls between June 28 and Aug. 28 to make the September debates, which have higher qualification standards than the June and July debates.

Democratic insiders are split over whether it's better to have one night with 10 candidates or two nights with fewer candidates. One debate night would ensure that for the first time, Biden would face off on the same stage with Warren. With the pair leading in the polls, a debate that included both could ensure that more viewers tune in to the debate.

But it also means that candidates could pick fights in an attempt to get more speaking time and encourage soundbites rather than substantive debate.

"The problem with the debates so far have been that they haven't really had substantial conversations about the issues. Everybody is looking for their 15 seconds of fame, for a particularly good zinger," Michael McHale, a Democratic National Committee member from Louisiana, told the Washington Examiner. He prefers two debate nights rather than one, even if only 10 candidates qualify.

Nathan Smith, a DNC member from Kentucky, also said that he would prefer two nights.

"The more the merrier, we have plenty of time to work [through] this," Smith told the Washington Examiner.

Kansas DNC member Chris Reeves said that he prefers one debate night to help ensure better ratings. He also expressed frustration at Steyer's campaign.

"Steyer should not qualify. Decent guy, but if he wants to burn money in a fire, my stove is ready," Reeves told the Washington Examiner, adding the Steyer could spend money to help get more people registered to vote instead.

Castro became the 10th candidate to qualify for the September Democratic presidential primary debate when a CNN poll released Tuesday found he had 2% support.

Speaking to reporters outside Atlanta on Friday, Castro critiqued the DNC’s debate thresholds.

"It’s a work in progress," Castro said. "I question the effectiveness of that polling when you have 24 candidates, when you’re getting within the margin of error, well within the margin of error, to try and measure that qualification point. And I think they could give that thought in the future."

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has also surpassed 130,000 donors. She had 2% support in Tuesday’s CNN poll, her second qualifying poll.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday and spiritual author Marianne Williamson announced Tuesday that their campaigns each passed 130,000 individual donors, but neither has any qualifying polls.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has one qualifying poll but has not yet met 130,000 individual donors.

The October round of debates has the same qualification standards as September and is likely to include more qualifying candidates. All September qualifying candidates will automatically be on the October debate stage, and there will be more time for candidates to earn qualifying polls for the October round.

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