There are a whopping 22 Democrats running in the 2020 presidential race.
While some voters may appreciate the range of choices, the Democratic National Committee doesn’t seem as enthusiastic. With the number of candidates surpassing the number of spots on the debate stage, the DNC has created new requirements to enter the first primary debates.
These requirements mean that in order to participate, candidates must either have 65,000 donors or reach at least 1% in three approved polls. Although candidates have two options, most campaigns have focused on the donor requirement. This has led to some candidates taking some interesting strategies to draw in new donors.
John Delaney has promised to give two dollars of his own money to charity for every 100,000 individual donors. Jay Inslee is handing out bumper stickers in return for one-dollar donations and openly asked for donations during a CNN town hall. However, Kirsten Gillibrand’s gambit has garnered the most attention.
The senator tweeted a video of her playing “water pong” — beer pong, except with cups of water. Before she takes the shot, the video asks the viewer if they will donate one dollar to her campaign if the senator makes the shot. The video then shows Gillibrand sinking the ball into the last cup on the table.
While these strategies may seem gimmicky, they highlight the importance of debates during this election season. The Democratic field is more crowded than it has been in the past few elections. The 2016 election had five candidates, and 2008 had eight candidates. In such a large pool of candidates, each contender depends heavily on the debates to publicize their message and directly compare themselves and their policies to their opponents.
But while the candidates focus on being able to participate in debates, party insiders worry that the new rules are becoming a distraction.
According to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, this strategy is “going to cause candidates to concentrate on fundraising as opposed to hiring staff and traveling to important primary states.”
An advisor to a campaign also said the focus on meeting thresholds and “going viral” is postponing important strategy conversations.
Yet some say that, given the changing nature of national politics, this new threshold is simply bringing candidates into the new status quo.
“The game has changed and you’re either going to work within the new system or you’re going to have to get out,” Democratic strategist Patti Solis Doyle said.
Some suspect that the DNC will continue to ratchet up the requirements for future debates moving into 2019 and 2020. Future changes to the threshold will likely depend on how many candidates are still in the race by the time the next round of debates comes around.