Democratic WH hopefuls Bennet, Ryan jab at DNC over debate rules

Two of the Democratic presidential candidates gunning to make the first round of presidential debates say it’s too soon for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to exclude some hopefuls from the debate stage.

“I don’t think the DNC should be winnowing the field early in the process,” one candidate, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, told Fox News on Tuesday as he was campaigning in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

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His concerns were echoed by a rival, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who was also campaigning in the Granite State

“To start winnowing the field this early in the process I think isn’t the best way to go about doing it, because you need a chance for the American people to see you,” he told Fox News.

In February, the DNC announced two ways the candidates could reach the debate stage. One is to register support of 1 percent or more in three qualifying national, early-primary or caucus-voting-state polls released between Jan. 1 and 14 days prior to the date of the first showdown.

The other way: Get donations from at least 65,000 unique contributors and have a minimum of 200 unique contributors per state in at least 20 states.

Each month starting at the end of June, the DNC plans to hold two debates – on consecutive nights – with 10 contenders debating each evening. But with a historic two dozen candidates now vying for the Democratic nomination and the chance to go head to head with President Trump, some of the White House hopefuls won’t make the cut.

Bennet, whose entry into the race was delayed as he underwent cancer surgery in early spring, stressed that he hoped “to be able to make the debate stage. We’ll see. I’m five weeks away from being on a hospital table and three weeks away from getting into this race so it won’t surprise you that the 65,000 donor metric is a challenge for us.”

“We’ve got two of the polls; I need one more to make it,” he revealed.

And in a subtle jab at the DNC, Bennet emphasized, “I hope the metrics that they picked put the strongest candidates on the debate stage.”

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Like Bennet, Ryan seems less than thrilled with the DNC’s criteria, but isn’t protesting.

“It’s probably a little premature to start cutting people off, but it is what it is. The rules are what they are. I’m not going to complain about them,” Ryan said. “They are what they are and hopefully we can have a moment where we break out and people start saying, ‘Hey I want to hear more about Tim Ryan.’”

Ryan has already met the polling criteria and is hoping to hit the 65,000 threshold.

“We’re chugging away. We’re making progress. We’re making investments into it,” he said.

Highlighting his Midwestern roots, he added, “I’m not from New York. I’m not L.A, I’m not from Silicon Valley. And so it’s going to take me a little longer to build out the national donor base.”

Targeting many of his rivals for the nomination, Ryan said that the Democratic Party "has a real perception problem now. We’re perceived as coast elites that are Ivy League and don’t understand what’s happening in Ohio or Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, western Pennsylvania. And so that’s what I bring to the table. And I think that ... distinguishes me.”