Here's What You Need to Know About the 2020 Democratic Primary Debates

Madison Feller
Photo credit: MSNBC - Getty Images


The 2020 presidential race is in full swing, and there's a mind-boggling number of Democratic primary candidates vying for the party's official spot. Luckily for voters, the debates have officially begun. Here, everything you need to know.

When is the fourth debate?

The fourth debate will be co-hosted by CNN and the New York Times on October 15 in Westerville, Ohio, at the Otterbein University campus. (There will potentially be a second night added depending on how many candidates qualify.) CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, as well as Times national editor Marc Lacey, will act as moderators.

NBC News reported that there will be a total of 12 debates during the Democratic primary season and that the first six are scheduled for 2019.

In case you missed it, the first Democratic primary debates took place on June 26 and June 27 in Miami, Florida. NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo hosted those debates, and the moderators were Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart. The second round of debates were hosted by CNN in Detroit on July 30 and 31, and the moderators were Dana Bash, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper. The third debate was hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision on September 12 in Houston, Texas, at Texas Southern University, a public historically black university. The moderators were George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, and Jorge Ramos.

How can I watch it?

According to CNN, the fourth round of debates will be on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Español, and the homepage and the Times' homepage. The debate will also be available on the CNN's apps for iOS and Android, on the CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV.

What will be the format?

While the format is still to be determined for the fourth debate, during the Houston debate, candidates had one minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for any rebuttals. There were opening statements but no closing statements. And, according to ABC, the candidates' placement on stage were based on their polling averages with the highest polling candidates standing toward the center.

Is everyone debating?

Definitely not. For the first and second round of debating, the Democratic National Committee announced that candidates had two paths to qualifying:

  1. "Register 1% or more support in three polls (which may be national polls, or polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and/or Nevada) publicly released between January 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the Organization Debate." (Read more about the specific polling restrictions here.)
  2. "Candidates may qualify for the debate by demonstrating that the campaign has received donations from at least (1) 65,000 unique donors; and (2) a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states."

But after the first two debates, things get even trickier. To qualify for the third and fourth debates, which will take place in September and October, candidates will need to meet two requirements:

  1. 130,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states
  2. Register at least 2% support in four qualifying polls released between June 28 and August 28.

So, who has qualified?

Qualifying polls released between June 28 and October 1 can count toward a candidate's participation in the fourth debate, according to CNN. If only 10 candidates qualify, the debate will only occur on one night for the second time this election season.

So far, CNN reports that 11 candidates have said they've reached the qualifications for the fourth debate: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer.

Notable people who didn’t qualify for the third debate, but you’ve seen on the stage before, include Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan.

What made the September debate different?

This third debate was especially important considering it was the first time all of the major 2020 candidates appeared on one debate stage at the same time. In the first two debates, top-polling candidates were often separated and voters were only able to see certain pairings go head-to-head (Sen. Harris and Joe Biden being the most notable, along with Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders).

September was the first time Biden and Warren, two current front runners, shared a stage together, as well as the first time we saw Warren and Harris, the top-polling women, side by side.

Jennifer Holdsworth, the senior Democratic strategist at MWWPR, told that it will now become increasingly difficult for candidates who did not make the third debate to continue to make the case for their candidacies. "Though it is possible to have a viral moment offstage, it is now unlikely that another candidate will break through," she explained. Holdsworth worked for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016 and served as Buttigieg’s national campaign manager when he ran for DNC chair in 2017; she’s publicly supporting Buttigieg in 2020.

She emphasized the need for Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro, and O'Rourke to solidify their message and have memorable performances in order to build the organization and fundraising operations they'll need to sustain their campaigns to Iowa and New Hampshire. will continue to update this post.

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