The Democratic National Committee announced the lineup Thursday for its first presidential primary debates in Miami, leaving Florida’s only candidate out of the mix and irking the governor of Montana.
With 20 people qualifying for the debate, the question was less about which of the 23 “major” candidates would make it than which candidates wouldn’t: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam are officially the odd men out.
In it for sure when the Democrats converge on the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts June 26 and 27 are headliners former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Close behind them in the most recent polls are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The DNC and host network NBC have not yet announced which candidates will debate on which night, but those four will be part of a top-polling group that will be spread evenly across the two debates in order to avoid the perception of one of the nights being an undercard. That top tier also includes California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and, perhaps, former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are among those who will fill out the debate stage, along with author Marianne Williamson and Congressmen John Delaney and Tim Ryan, from Massachusetts and Ohio, respectively.
Also in the debates: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and California Congressman Eric Swalwell.
The debates, held from 9 to 11 p.m. will be hosted by NBC’s Lester Holt and broadcast on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. Holt will also be joined by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart.
The 20 candidates made it into the debates by meeting polling and fundraising benchmarks set by the Democratic National Committee. Candidates could make the debates by either registering in at least three polls conducted by any of 18 sanctioned organizations, or by raising money from at least 65,000 people. Seven of the 20 candidates met only the polling benchmarks.
Bullock, the Montana governor who officially entered the race last month, has been the most critical of the Democratic National Committee’s selection process after a poll that would have made him the 21st candidate to qualify was discounted last week. On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Chairman Tom Perez stating that he’d met the criteria to make the debates and demanding a spot on stage.
“I chose to enter the Democratic primary later than most. Sure, had I jumped into the race earlier, I may have been able to raise my profile. But I had a job to do,” Bullock wrote in an op-ed published Thursday by Fortune. “I chose to enter the Democratic primary later than most. Sure, had I jumped into the race earlier, I may have been able to raise my profile. But I had a job to do.”
But Bullock failed to register in three polls released this week ahead of Wednesday’s qualifying deadline, including a Monmouth poll released the day of the deadline. And the DNC didn’t change its mind regarding the exclusion of an ABC/Washington Post poll from January that was discounted because voters were asked to name their own preferred presidential candidate rather than select from a list of candidates stated by the pollster.