In 2016, the 17 candidate GOP primary was regularly referred to by Democrats and the media as a “Clown Car.” The record high number of competitors made debates hard to organize, and lesser known candidates were prone to outrageous stunts to get attention in the thick field. Now, Democrats have twenty official candidates in their own primary for 2020, and more are still expected to enter.
In light of the score or more of candidates who will be fighting for the nomination, party organizers at the DNC are looking for ways to winnow the field. Philip Wegmann writes at Real Clear Politics:
The Democratic National Committee may have an overcrowding problem on its hands, and is considering ways to address it.
After relaxing its rules, the party must now accommodate a sprawling field of presidential candidates who have qualified for the first two primary debates this summer. Based on the current formula, 15 hopefuls have already earned a spot on stage for the first nationally televised debate, which will be spread over two nights, June 26-27.
But following the second debate on July 30-31, some of those same candidates might not make subsequent cuts. Sources with direct knowledge told RealClearPolitics that the DNC is considering a rule change.
“This sort of low entry point into the debates is not going to last forever,” one party official said before mentioning possible higher standards in terms of fundraising and polling that would create “a natural winnowing before we get to Iowa.”
“That is the conversation we are having right now. And it is incumbent on the party not to put our thumb on the scale — everyone is very cognizant of what happened in 2016 — but also not to let this thing drag out.”
Democrats are haunted by Hillary Clinton’s candidacy four years ago, which, some complained, was more of a coronation than a real contest for the nomination. Primary opponents Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley repeatedly griped that party brass had rigged the system in her favor. Both accused the DNC of limiting the number of debates and manipulating their schedule to shield the front-runner.
Hoping to avoid accusations of favoritism this time around, Democrats decided to democratize the process. DNC Chairman Tom Perez announced new rules in February that prioritize national polling as much as emphasizing grassroots fundraising to qualify for 12 total debates. To punch their ticket, candidates must either score above 1 percent in three polls or rake in donations from at least 65,000 unique donors (with a minimum of 200 donors in each of at least 20 states).
“Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before,” Perez explained.
The initial requirements for qualification were never set in stone to begin with, however, and applied specifically to the first two primary debates. During a March 22 interview with CSPAN, Perez left the door open to higher standards for subsequent debates.
“In all the prior primaries, we saw the thresholds evolve as the campaigns evolved, and this will be no different,” he noted.
Read more here.