Government

Iowa presidential debate could be the smallest yet

Democratic Party stiffens qualifying rules as caucuses near

Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang poses for a selfie Thursday night after a Democratic presiden
Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang poses for a selfie Thursday night after a Democratic presidential primary debate in Los Angeles. But he faces uncertainty in joining the televised Jan. 14 debate in Iowa as his polling numbers may not prove high enough to meet the tighter criteria. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

The last televised Democratic presidential debate before the Feb. 3 caucuses may showcase the smallest collection of candidates yet.

While the seven hopefuls who debated Thursday night represented the fewest on stage in 2019, the Jan. 14 event in Des Moines could shrink even more as the Democratic Party tightens the qualifying rules.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, had by Saturday made the cutoff.

But the rules appear to keep Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., off the stage again, and prevent former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg from being considered.

The debate at Drake University, sponsored by CNN and the Des Moines Register, will have both a higher polling requirement and a higher requirement for grassroots donors.

To make the stage, candidates must either score at least 5 percent in four party-sanctioned national polls, or 7 percent in two polls conducted in early states.

Candidates also must prove they have 225,000 individual donors, up from 200,000 in December, with more than 1,000 coming from each of 20 different states.

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The donor requirement is prohibitive for Bloomberg, who has been polling near the cutoff but has vowed to accept no donations.

The polling levels could prove a challenge to businessman Andrew Yang and billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who made the December debate but have been polling under 5 present in recent surveys.

The candidate have until Jan. 10 to qualify.

The new rules are likely to keep two non-white candidates off the stage for another round.

Booker, who is black, has been polling under 4 percent and asked the Democratic National Committee to consider other criteria, like early state endorsements.

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, who is Latino, is also unlikely to make the cut with those levels.

Last month, Castro said Iowa should not be the first state in the nation to winnow the candidate field since its population does not reflect the diversity of the nation.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” the Texas Democrat told The Gazette after attending a Veterans Day observance in Cedar Rapids. “That’s the truth. Not a lot of people are willing to say it.”

Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez has left open the possibility in interviews of changing the debate rules for January, which he has recently been deciding month-to-month.

But he also has defended the tightening rules, saying that candidates who couldn’t meet the qualifications weren’t building the support necessary to defeat President Donald Trump.

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Last week, the top polling presidential candidates signed a letter to the party asking for looser qualifications to allow more candidates into the contest.

The first debates over the summer welcomed 20 candidates to the stage over two nights, but Perez gradually has been raising the polling and individual donor levels.

The seven candidates who made the stage for the December debate were Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Yang, Klobuchar and Steyer.

The seventh debate coincides with the beginning of the 2020 Iowa legislative session and a major policy speech by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, also in Des Moines.

The Iowa caucuses will be held Feb. 3.

The next televised debate after that is Feb. 7 in Manchester, N.H.

The Washingon Post and Associated Press contributed.

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