The DNC is erring on the side of inclusion, so the two-night event will be unwieldy.
The Democratic National Committee will determine the lineup for its first two-night Democratic presidential debate this week, and the decision will spotlight just how the party has chosen to handle its enormously large field.
The DNC — which set the qualification criteria alongside its media partners for the first debate — faced a clear trade-off. It could set lenient standards to get onstage, ensuring even lesser-known candidates get a fair chance. Or it could aim for a debate that would focus on pitting the top-tier candidates against each other, in hopes of lengthy back-and-forth exchanges.
For this initial debate — which will take place on Wednesday, June 26, and Thursday, June 27, from 9 to 11 pm Eastern time both nights — the party’s main priority was inclusion.
Twenty Democratic candidates will make it to the debate stage, and those two nights will each feature 10 candidates. Still, even under these lenient qualification rules, the field of candidates is so large that a few will miss the cut — months ago, before anyone knew exactly how many candidates would run, the DNC said 20 would be the maximum number featured in the first debate.
Importantly, the top tier of candidates, generously defined as those at 2 percent or more in a polling average chosen by the DNC, will be split evenly between the debate’s two nights. That is, there will be no “kids’ table” or “undercard” debate with only the worst-polling candidates, as was Republicans’ practice in 2015. The assignments of each qualifying candidate to a particular night will be made by random drawing this Friday.
The upshot is that some of the candidates who clearly have the most support so far — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg — may not actually get to debate each other. Furthermore, those who do get to debate might not get to say much, since two hours split equally among 10 candidates would give each candidate just 12 minutes to speak, not counting moderators’ speaking time or commercial breaks.
Expect the first debate to be an unwieldy, crowded, two-night spectacle. The same goes for the second July debate, which will also use these qualification rules. But the DNC has announced it will toughen the standards after that, beginning with the third debate in September — a move that may produce a more manageable roster, but which already has some candidates quite nervous.
How to qualify for the first Democratic debate
Earlier this year, as the DNC weighed how it would handle the party’s first presidential debate, the ghosts of 2016 loomed.
During that election cycle, the DNC — then under the leadership of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — faced harsh criticism for its alleged favoritism toward frontrunner Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders and other lesser-known candidates.
The DNC scheduled only four debates before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, compared to Republicans’ seven. What’s more, three of …read more