Democratic Debate Rule Change Could Open Stage to Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Party has changed requirements for candidates to earn a spot on the presidential debate stage, a move that could mean Michael Bloomberg will face his rivals for the nomination for the first time. The changes could also knock some other candidates off.

The change will eliminate the current fund-raising requirement, which has kept the former New York mayor out of the debates to date, but also raises the polling threshold to 10% in four approved polls. Bloomberg has yet to meet that mark in a single approved poll. He is now at 8.2% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

Bloomberg has not met the fund-raising requirement because he’s self-funding his campaign.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together,” said Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey.

Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg, LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. The rule change was first reported by Politico and confirmed by a party official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Democratic Debate Rule Change Could Open Stage to Bloomberg

The increased polling threshold could push some lower-polling candidates like Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer off the stage. Steyer has met the fund-raising requirements but has not yet qualified for the Nevada debate based on polls alone.

“Let’s make one thing clear: changing the rules now to accommodate Mike Bloomberg and not changing them in the past to ensure a more diverse debate stage is just plain wrong,” Steyer said in a statement.

The new rules will take effect after next week’s debate in New Hampshire, starting with the Feb. 19 Nevada debate and continuing with at least three more debates after that.

Because he has not been on the debate stage, few Americans have seen Bloomberg unscripted as a candidate. His introduction to the country in the few months he has been running is through nearly $300 million in television ads.

Both Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren had complained that Bloomberg has largely avoided tough questions by failing to subject himself to the give-and-take of debates and grassroots campaigning. In a tweet Friday, Warren noted that the DNC did not change the rules to keep diverse candidates in the field and said Bloomberg should not get special treatment.

“The DNC didn’t change the rules to ensure good, diverse candidates could remain on the debate stage,” she said. “They shouldn’t change the rules to let a billionaire on. Billionaires shouldn’t be allowed to play by different rules -- on the debate stage, in our democracy, or in our government.”

Pete Buttigieg said Friday that he will live with the new rules and hopes to qualify for future debates. “I think it is important that we have that process where folks have to stand with their competitors and explain why each of us is the best,“ he said.

Bernie Sanders was less welcoming. Campaign manager Faiz Shakir suggested in a tweet that the change in rules would allow Bloomberg to buy his way onto the debate stage.

“DNC changing the rules to benefit a billionaire. I much prefer Democrats being a grassroots party. And under Bernie Sanders, that’s the way it will be,” he said.

The party has also added another way to qualify for all future debates: Win at least one delegate to the national convention. Bloomberg can’t meet that criteria for the Nevada or South Carolina debates because he’s not competing in the first four states.

Bloomberg entered the race on Nov. 24, after the party had already sanctioned five debates featuring as many as 20 candidates at a time.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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