10 Candidates Qualify For September's Democratic Debate
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right. Now to the 2020 campaign. The historically large field of Democratic presidential candidates has dwindled. There are just 20 left at this point, and only half of them will be on the debate stage next month in Houston. The DNC made that lineup official today. And we wanted to look at how that could change the race, so we brought in NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, there.
CHANG: All right. So it's official now. We're down to 10 candidates for the next debate. Who's in?
DETROW: So this is an important clarification. It's a smaller overall field, but it is still a very crowded...
DETROW: ...Debate stage with 10 candidates on it. Joe Biden will be at the center - a lot of polls recently showing that he continues to hold a commanding lead. This will be the first time he's on the stage with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who's increasingly a top rival. Senator Bernie Sanders will be onstage as well. We'll also have three other senators - Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker - as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Beto O'Rourke and Andrew Yang.
CHANG: All right - so still a whole slew of candidates. And looking at this particular group, what do you think? Will we see a really different debate next month from what we saw earlier in the summer?
DETROW: One thing we'll see is a longer debate. This is going to be a three-hour-long debate...
CHANG: Oh, lovely.
DETROW: ...Just announced. You know, one of the big features of the first two rounds is that lower-polling moderates ended up with a lot of airtime as they argued against big progressive policies from Sanders and Warren. A lot of them did not make the cut here. So expect Joe Biden to be front and center in debates like that. You know, do you build on Obamacare, or do you push for "Medicare for All?" How do you enforce immigration? - other moderate-progressive splits. Amy Klobuchar is also in that centrist lane, and she'll be on the stage. But I think Biden and Warren, you know, particularly will be asked a lot of she-says-this-you-said-this-type...
DETROW: ...Questions. It's also worth flagging that Biden and Warren have had years and years of policy disagreements with each other, going back to when he was a senator and she was a professor arguing for more consumer-friendly bankruptcy law. So I'm very curious to see how they interact with each other, what they say about each other.
CHANG: OK. So over the last few weeks, we saw a bunch of candidates drop out. The latest was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Did these candidates drop out just because they weren't going to qualify for the debate?
DETROW: Yeah, and they were pretty clear about that. There was a weird dynamic here where they were trying really hard at the last minute to meet these qualifying standards, including having 130,000 individual donors. So they were aggressively trying to raise money. And so they went from, please give me money for my campaign, to suddenly exiting the race. I was curious how people felt who gave the money in those...
CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.
DETROW: ...Final days. I tracked down several, including Margaret de Vico (ph) from New Jersey.
MARGARET DE VICO: I was definitely sad that she dropped out. But I mean, she can have my five bucks. That's fine. I wasn't angry. I'm just bummed that she won't be there. I thought that it was just really important for her to be able to have the platform to talk about the issues that are important to her.
DETROW: So she had obviously contributed to Gillibrand's campaign. But you know, one thing from talking to a lot of people in a situation like that - to me, it really illustrated how pragmatically so many Democratic voters are treating this race. The general consensus was, people said, yeah, I understand why the DNC has this rules. I think it's better to have fewer candidates, even though the one I liked left the race. And hey, I still have a lot of candidates I'm interested in and could see myself voting for.
CHANG: Still a lot of options.
CHANG: OK. So there are 10 candidates who did not make this debate, but they're still running, right? So what's ahead for them?
DETROW: Well, the debate in October will have the same rules, and they'll have one more month to qualify, whether that's increasing the number of donors or hitting 2% in enough polls. Candidates like billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard came pretty close. The - Steyer needs one more poll. Gabbard needs two. Steyer in particular is spending a ton of money in early states, trying to raise his name ID. So he has a good chance of qualifying for October. And you know what that means - back to two nights of debates.
CHANG: Oh, boy. That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.