Will Bennet, Hickenlooper Even Make the 2020 Debate Stage?

Will Bennet, Hickenlooper Even Make the 2020 Debate Stage?
Michael Bennet / Colorado.gov
With less than a month to go before the first primary debate between 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, Colorado’s two long-shot candidates aren’t yet assured a place on the stage — and even if they make the cut, they might not be there for long.

Former governor John Hickenlooper, the wealthy white male moderate who progressives think is too close to the oil industry, and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, the wealthy white male moderate who progressives think is too close to Wall Street, have both struggled to meet the debate requirements set by the Democratic National Committee.

In order to participate in the first debate, which will be split between June 26 and June 27, candidates must either have received contributions from 65,000 unique donors, including 200 donors from twenty or more states, or have garnered at least 1 percent support in three different qualifying polls, according to DNC rules. If more than twenty candidates meet at least one criterion, however, the field will be whittled down, with candidates who meet both criteria given priority.

That’s proven challenging enough for Bennet and Hickenlooper. But both campaigns got more unwelcome news on Wednesday, May 29, when the DNC announced that starting with its third presidential debate, scheduled for September, the bar will be raised even higher. Candidates will need both a minimum of 2 percent support in four different polls and 130,000 unique donors, including 400 donors from twenty states.

Hickenlooper, who launched his campaign in Civic Center Park in March, has met at least one criterion for the June debate — barely. He’s received 1 percent support in at least four different DNC-approved polls, most recently a Monmouth University survey of New Hampshire voters earlier this month.

Bennet, meanwhile, hasn’t polled at 1 percent in any approved survey since announcing his campaign last month — though he has met the mark in others, like an unofficial national tracking poll conducted by market-research firm Morning Consult. With just weeks to go before the first debate, that will need to change fast.

But it’s on the donor front that things begin to look truly dire for both candidates. As of March 31, Hickenlooper had received contributions from just 1,093 unique donors, a review of Federal Election Commission disclosures shows. While that figure only includes less than a month’s worth of donations following his campaign announcement on March 4, it puts the governor on pace for only a fraction of the donors he needs to fully guarantee himself a spot on the debate stage in June and July, much less qualify for the September debate.

Because he announced his presidential bid after the FEC’s first-quarter deadline, Bennet has yet to file a campaign-finance report. Neither campaign responded to a request for comment Wednesday on their total number of unique donors, or their reaction to the DNC’s new, higher threshold for the third debate.

Both candidates, however, have made the debate requirements a centerpiece of their fundraising appeals to voters. “We need your help to make sure our message is heard on the debate stage,” reads a typical tweet from Bennet’s campaign. “Please chip in now.”

“Chip in $1 or more to help me get on the debate stage in June,” pleaded Hickenlooper earlier this month. “Every dollar and every donor counts.”
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff