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

Madison Feller
Photo credit: MSNBC - Getty Images

From ELLE

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 are well on their way. Here, everything you need to know.

When is the November debate?

The fifth debate will be co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post on November 20 in Georgia. 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.

The debate will be limited to two hours, airing from 9 to 11 P.M., and feature a group of all-women moderators: reporters Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker, and Ashley Parker.

The sixth and final debate of the year will be hosted by PBS and Politico at UCLA on December 19.

In case you missed any of the previous debates, here's a rundown: 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. And the fourth debate was co-hosted by CNN and the New York Times on October 15 in Westerville, Ohio, at the Otterbein University campus. CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, as well as Times national editor Marc Lacey, acted as moderators.

How can I watch it?

According to NBC, the November debate will be available to watch live on MSNBC and NBC News Now. It will also stream on MSNBC.com and washingtonpost.com, as well as on the NBC News and The Washington Post's mobile apps.

What will be the format?

While the format is still to be announced for the November debate, NBC has said it will be taking user-submitted questions for the evening. You can submit a question here.

Is everyone debating?

Definitely not. For the first and second round debates, 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. 65,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states.

But after the first two debates, things got even trickier. To qualify for the third and fourth debates, candidates needed to meet stricter requirements:

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

The DNC raised the requirements for qualifying for the November debates. Candidates need to meet these, if they want to appear onstage:

  1. Hit 3% support in four approved national or early-state polls, or hit 5% support in two approved early-state polls
  2. Have 165,000 unique donors with at least 600 donors in at least 20 states.

And if they'd like to appear on stage for the December debates, Politico recently reported they must meet these qualifications:

  1. Hit 4% support in at least four approved national or early-state polls, or hit 6% support in two approved early-state polls
  2. Have 200,000 unique donors with at least 800 donors in at least 20 states.

The qualification deadline for the December debates is December 12. So far, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have already qualified.

So, who has qualified for November?

So far, the New York Times has reported that nine candidates have qualified for the November debate: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer. It's expected that all candidates will appear on stage on the same night, especially as the number of qualifying candidates shrinks month to month.

Notably, Beto O'Rourke, Julián Castro, and Tulsi Gabbard qualified for the October debate but have yet to qualify for November.

People who haven't qualified for the November debate and didn't qualify for the October debate, but you’ve seen on the stage before, include Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan.

Did Tulsi Gabbard boycott the October debate?

Just days before the October debate, Gabbard released a video where she said she was considering boycotting the debate since she believed the primary election was being "rigged."

In the video, she said, “[The Democratic National Committee and the media] are attempting to replace the roles of voters in the early states, using polling and other arbitrary methods which are not transparent or democratic, and holding so-called debates which are not debates at all but rather commercialized reality television meant to entertain, not inform or enlighten. In short, the DNC and corporate media are trying to hijack the entire election process.”

Gabbard then announced she would be attending.

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 ELLE.com 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.

ELLE.com will continue to update this post.

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