Nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, led by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, are calling on the Democratic National Committee to lower its qualifying thresholds for the January and February debates after only one candidate of color made the cut for the December stage.
Booker’s campaign led the charge in a letter sent to DNC Chairman Tom Perez on Saturday saying, “The escalating thresholds over the past few months have unnecessarily and artificially narrowed what started as the strongest and most diverse Democratic field in history before voters have had a chance to be heard.”
The DNC has systematically upped its debate qualifying thresholds throughout the year. For Thursday’s debate, candidates needed to receive at least 4% support in at least four national or early state polls, or 6% or more in two early state polls. Candidates also needed at least 200,000 unique donors, with at least 800 apiece in 20 states.
Saturday’s letter comes after Booker failed to qualify for this Thursday’s debate in Los Angeles — which is already in question after all seven of the eligible candidates said they wouldn’t cross a picket line of Loyola Marymount University food service workers locked in a labor dispute.
Booker was one of three candidates, including U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who met the donor requirement but failed to cross the polling threshold.
Now, the historically diverse field will be represented Thursday by former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, billionaire Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang — the only candidate of color.
All seven signed onto Booker’s letter, as did Castro.
The letter claims the exclusion of the majority of the field’s candidates of color is “an unintended consequence of the DNC’s actions” but says “the result does not live up to the values of our Democratic Party.”
It calls for the DNC to let candidates who meet either threshold take part in the January and February debates, which include one in each of the four early nominating states.
The DNC reportedly said it would not change the threshold for any one candidate, nor would it return to the format earlier this year in which it hosted two consecutive nights of debate featuring more than a dozen presidential hopefuls.
But Democratic strategist Neil Oxman said the DNC “is probably making a mistake to just say no.”
Booker, who polls at about 2% nationally, according to Real Clear Politics, is more than just “an asterisk” in the field, Oxman added. Plus, he said, the current rules mean Mike Bloomberg — who is polling at about 5% after far outspending the field to boost his late bid — could become the Democratic nominee without ever setting foot on a debate stage.
Todd Belt, director of George Washington University’s political management program, said the lack of diversity on stage “is a big deal if the Democrats are trying to reform the Obama coalition, which most people say they need to do in order to win this election.”
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