Democratic Presidential Contenders Scramble to Make September Debate

Among the more than 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls, the scramble is on to qualify for the next candidates’ debate in September.

The debate is now set for Sept. 12-13 in Houston, Texas.

Former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro got some good news this week, when he became the 10th Democrat to qualify for the debate, the third such event.

Several other Democrats likely will not make the cut for the next debate, however, hampering their chances of building support in the crowded and at times chaotic primary battle.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and his son Cristian tour the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 9, 2019.

Looking to surge

For Castro, a whirlwind of campaigning paid off when he qualified.

“I believe we can get stronger and stronger. We still have five months to go until the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. And by that time, if we work hard, I can be a front-runner,” Castro told supporters last week in New Hampshire. He was referring to two of the state-level events that are part of the party’s delegate-selection process before its national convention in July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It is a different story for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio takes a photo with a fairgoer at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 11, 2019.

De Blasio is among those Democrats scrambling to meet the tougher polling and fundraising requirements to qualify for the September debate.

“It is a tough goal for us. We have been working at it and what I am looking at is if we cannot get into the September debate, to get into (the one in) October,” de Blasio told reporters in New Hampshire.

Tougher rules

Candidates must register at least 2% support in four polls and register 130,000 individual campaign contributors to qualify for the September Houston debate.

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney is among those not likely to make the next debate, although he hopes to remain in the race long enough to compete in the early caucuses and primaries, beginning in February.

“The role that Iowa and New Hampshire play is to find other candidates that maybe the national media is not focusing on as much,” Delaney told reporters in New Hampshire last week. “So doing well in one of these two early states is really important.”

U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, center, talks to a supporter after speaking at a Gun Violence Prevention roundtable in Los Angeles, Aug. 22, 2019.

Shrinking field

The large Democratic field has slowly begun to shrink with the exit of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s decision last week to drop out of the presidential race and to run instead for the Senate.

“This is no time to walk away from the table. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot,” he said in announcing his Senate bid in a campaign video.

Other Democrats are hanging in despite low poll numbers, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Booker has qualified for the September debate and is counting on a strong performance to vault him into contention.

He recently made a pitch to Democratic activists in Iowa that he would be the strongest nominee to take on President Donald Trump next year, urging them to “stand together and work together and love together and overcome his darkness with our light!”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., center, laughs while speaking with reporters, Aug. 18, 2019, at the Hillsborough County Democrats Summer Picnic, in Greenfield, N.H.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has also qualified for the Houston debate and told reporters in New Hampshire last week she would stick to her strategy in coming weeks.

“I plan to keep taking it to Donald Trump. I plan to keep making the case for an optimistic, economic agenda for this country,” she said.

Debate stakes

The campaign road will get harder for those who miss the September debate, USA Today political reporter and analyst Susan Page said.

“We have our third set of debates coming up in early September and it is a little harder to qualify for those debates. We think those numbers (of candidates) will come down. And once a candidate does not make the debates, it gets harder for him or her to raise money to get supporters to stay in,” she told VOA.

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There are still more than 20 contenders in the race, and the next few months will be a make-or-break time for several of those who are not performing well, Brookings Institution analyst Darrell West said.

“I see a number of candidates probably dropping out over the next one or two months, certainly the ones who do not qualify for the upcoming September debates, they are going to see their money dry up and they are going to lose the media platform, so their candidacies will basically be over,” he said.

The September debate will be a one-night event if no more candidates qualify, but could go two nights if others qualify before Aug. 28. Billionaire impeachment activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard are two contenders seen as having a good shot at qualifying.

Biden still leads

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic field, followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

They will all be on the debate stage next month.

Biden got encouraging news in a CNN poll this week, jumping back to a double-digit lead over Sanders and Warren. Biden was at 29% support, up seven points from the same survey in late June.

Sanders trails with 15%, followed closely by Warren with 14%. Harris and Buttigieg both registered 5% in the same poll.

Also on the debate stage next month will be former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Wang, who continues to build a strong following online.