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Just Six Candidates Qualify for the January Democratic Debate

January 13, 2020, 2:30 PM UTC

Six presidential hopefuls will take to the stage in Iowa Tuesday in what is panning out to be the smallest and most consequential Democratic primary debate thus far. 

Tomorrow’s debate marks the first of 2020 and the last before primary elections begin in earnest, with Iowans heading out to caucus on Feb. 3. Accordingly, participants will attempt to balance the chance to introduce themselves to a national audience for the first time as election-year candidates while imparting their final messages to the first primary voters in Iowa. 

The stakes for this debate, the seventh of 12 sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, are high, and with the narrowest field yet, candidates will have more time onstage to appeal to voters. More time, however, also means that one or two applause lines will no longer suffice. The six candidates will be expected to go into detail on their visions for the country and articulate clear policy plans to support those visions. 

The deadline to qualify for the debate, which will be cohosted by CNN and The Des Moines Register, was midnight on Friday, Jan. 10, and much like in previous debates, the DNC required candidates to pass key polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify.

This time around, candidates were required to hit 5% in four national polls or 7% in two early primary state polls. They also had to receive funding from 225,000 unique donors across 20 different states. 

The candidates who have qualified are:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden 
  • Former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg 
  • Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar 
  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders 
  • Billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer 
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 

Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had the poll numbers to qualify, but because he is spending his own money on his campaign and eschewing donations, he will not reach the 225,000 unique donor requirements and won’t be onstage.

Nonprofit executive Andrew Yang, who qualified for the December debates, also missed the threshold and will not be on stage this time around. 

Last month, nine candidates wrote in a letter to the DNC that the rules to qualify for debates were too arduous and that they “unnecessarily and artificially narrowed what started as the strongest and most diverse Democratic field in history before voters have had a chance to be heard.”

Every candidate onstage for Tuesday’s debate will be white, and only two out of six—or one-third—will be female. 

There are in total 12 democrats still in the running for President, five of whom are keeping their campaigns going even though they won’t be at the debate at Drake University in Des Moines Tuesday evening: 

  • Colorado Senator Michael Bennet
  • Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg 
  • Former Maryland Representative John Delaney 
  • Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard 
  • Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick 
  • Venture for America founder Andrew Yang

Cory Booker dropped out of the race on Monday, Jan. 13.

Recent polling shows Buttigieg, Biden, and Sanders in what is essentially a three-way tie in early voting states, with former frontrunner Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the spotlight and falling in popularity. Steyer, largely because of his large ad spends (he’s already spent $67 million on TV ads alone) has surged in early primary polls, taking second place in South Carolina, just behind Biden, with 12% of potential votes. 

These debates will also be the first since Julian Castro, once considered a top candidate and still considered a potential VP pick for Warren, dropped out of the race. Spiritual influencer Marianne Williamson also announced last week that she would be suspending her campaign.

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