Debate lineup slashed in half: Numerous 2020 Dems fail to make the cut, turn on DNC

The Democratic National Committee made it official on Thursday – as media partner ABC News formally unveiled the list of White House hopefuls who’ve qualified for the upcoming third round of presidential primary debates.

The lineup is much smaller this time around. It's been slashed in half after numerous candidates failed to make the cut by not attracting enough donors or support in the polls.

Unlike the two-night, 20-candidate showdown last month, just 10 candidates will face off on a single night in the upcoming debate in September. They are: former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.


That means for the first time, all the top contenders will face off in the three-hour showdown on Sept. 12 in Houston.

Warren – who has soared in recent months and is neck-and-neck with fellow progressive standard-bearer Sanders – will finally share the stage with Biden, the front-runner in the race, as well as with Harris, another top-tier contender.

Biden and Warren will be standing center stage - with Sanders next to the former vice president and Harris next to Warren. Next to Sanders will be Buttigieg and then Booker. Next to Harris will be Yang and then O'Rourke. Klobuchar and Castro will stand at the edges of the stage.

For some Democrats frustrated by size of the record-setting field of 2020 White House hopefuls – which reached roughly two-dozen earlier this summer – the winnowing of the candidates who actually make the debate stage drew praise.

"I'm looking forward to getting to the place — assuming I'm still around — that it gets down to a smaller number of people so we can have more of a discussion instead of one-minute assertions," Biden told reporters Wednesday following a campaign event in South Carolina.

But the tightened rules led to complaints from those pushed to the side.

To make the cut, contenders had until midnight Wednesday to reach two DNC thresholds – campaign contributions from 130,000 individual donors and reaching at least 2 percent in four qualifying national or early voting state polls.


Ahead of the deadline, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts dropped out the race. Inslee and Moulton announced re-election bids and Hickenlooper launched a Senate run in Colorado, in hopes of defeating incumbent GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.

And hours ahead of the deadline, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ended her White House bid. The New York State Democrat had told Fox News last week that “I’m planning on making this round.”

But she called it quits after her multi-million dollar TV and digital ad push and the beefing up of her ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire – the first two states to vote in the nominating calendar – failed to help her qualify. Gillibrand described not making the stage as “fatal” to her White House bid.

Most of the rest of the field of contenders say – at least for now – that they’re not quitting, as they aim to return to the debate stage for October’s fourth round, which has the same qualifying thresholds as the third round.


Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who reached the fundraising threshold but was two polls shy of qualifying, is pledging to continue campaigning.

In an interview with Fox News Wednesday night on Fox News' “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Gabbard said “I'm going to continue focusing on speaking directly to voters across this country.”

And Gabbard, who’s campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire over the next week and a half, took aim at the DNC  for a "lack of transparency" on the debate qualifications.

"I think the bigger problem is that the whole process really lacks transparency," Gabbard told Carlson. "People deserve having that transparency because ultimately it's the people who will decide who our Democratic nominee will be."

Billionaire environmental and progressive advocate Tom Steyer used millions of his own money to blanket airwaves with TV commercials since launching his campaign early last month but ended up just one poll shy of making the debate stage in two weeks. Steyer’s also staying in the race and criticizing the DNC for a dearth of qualifying polls in recent weeks.

“It is clear from public polling that Tom would have easily met the 2% threshold and been on the debate stage if there had been any qualified early state polling in the last few weeks,” Steyer campaign manager Heather Hargreaves argued on Wednesday.

A senior adviser for best-selling spiritual author Marianne Williamson – who was three polls short of making the debate – told Fox News “we’re just getting started.” And Williamson also jabbed at the DNC.

Other lower-tier candidates who came nowhere close to qualifying for the third round also vow to stay in the race.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is currently campaigning in Iowa and heads to New Hampshire next week. Bullock, blasting the DNC a few days ago, said their debate rules have turned the primary into the "The Hunger Games."

And on Thursday Bullock vowed to march on, arguing that “I’m the only one in the field who has won and governed a Trump state."

A spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet told Fox News the Colorado Democrat’s “moving full steam ahead” and touted upcoming trips to Iowa and New Hampshire

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign press secretary told Fox News the mayor “looks forward to the Nevada State AFL-CIO convention on Thursday and the New Hampshire State Democratic Convention on September 7th as well as many appearances ahead.”

Last week Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio – in an interview with Fox News – emphasized “we’re going to keep going. We’re getting momentum.”

And former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland pledged emphatically that “I’m going to stick around, period.”

He highlighted that "we feel good about (making) the fourth debate.”

While both Ryan and Delaney admitted that missing a chance to speak to the millions expected to watch next month’s debate won’t help their chances, they also noted that there are still more than five months to go until the first votes will be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“I’d like to see candidates stay in – at least until the fourth debate – because there’s a good chance some of them will qualify for October and I hope some of them will do that so people have a chance to see them,” said Kathy Sullivan, a DNC member from New Hampshire. “There are some really great candidates who either got in late or haven’t got the coverage that some of the others have who I’d like to see them have the chance to introduce themselves.”

But Sullivan, a former state Democratic Party chair, acknowledged that “at some point, obviously closer to the end of the year, people have to do a gut check on money and whether or not they have the ability to move on.”