The first Democratic debate of 2020: Who will make the Top 20?

The Democratic National Committee announced their debate schedule for the 2020 primary, and I am relieved at how different it looks when compared to 2016’s calendar. The first debate will take place in June, while the first debate of three years ago was all the way in September of 2015. 12 are currently scheduled, and there will be a maximum of 20 candidates that could qualify. Thankfully, you won’t see 20 politicians all standing at podiums next to each other; the first two debates will be planned on consecutive nights with two random groups of candidates. To my estimation, there are almost 30 people who have either announced or are thinking about it:

  1. John Delaney, that one guy who’s already been running since 2017
  2. Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who centers his campaign around UBI
  3. Elizabeth Warren, the second most progressive senator
  4. Julian Castro, famous for having a twin
  5. Tulsi Gabbard, an anti-interventionist hated by the media
  6. Kirsten Gillibrand, who did a 180 on her stances just for this race
  7. Marianne Williamson, a self-help guru because why not?
  8. Kamala Harris, an Obama/Hillary hybrid
  9. Pete Buttigieg, one of the candidates with weird names
  10. Cory Booker, who also did a 180 on his stances just for this race
  11. Amy Klobuchar, boring but notable for also having a weird name
  12. Bernie Sanders, the most progressive senator with the worst posture
  13. Beto O’Rourke, the so-called “white Obama” who lost to Ted Cruz
  14. Joe Biden, the VP everyone has nostalgia for… the poor fools
  15. Michael Bloomberg, that billionaire mayor who banned Big Gulp
  16. Terry McAuliffe, nothing to note here except his love of the Clintons
  17. Michael Bennet, whose crowning achievement was yelling at Ted Cruz
  18. Tim Ryan, a congressman
  19. Seth Moulton, also a congressman
  20. Sherrod Brown, another slouching progressive
  21. Jeff Merkley, who has a good Senate record but no name recognition
  22. Jay Inslee, a governor
  23. Steve Bullock, also a governor
  24. Eric Swalwell, seriously… another congressman
  25. Eric Holder, the former Obama Attorney General
  26. John Hickenlooper, and of course the last guy with a weird name

Yeah, there’s a lot. And if you don’t recognize the names of most of them, I do not blame you. According to the DNC, the qualifiers to make it to the debates will combine data from polls and from grassroots organizing. You have to score at least 1% in three or more polls. These need to be between January 1st and two weeks before the debate starts. And according to the DNC, candidates must have also received 65,000 unique donors and 200 donors per state in at least 20 states.

So who is getting the cut? Let’s assume for the sake of this article that all 26 of these guys run, and no one drops out before June. Morning Consult just released an article filled with information related to current polls. It includes 20 candidates in the methodology, and Buttigieg, Delaney, Inslee and McAuliffe were the only ones to receive zero percent. Real Clear Politics shows aggregated polls from the beginning of January, and it looks like Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, Bloomberg, Castro, Brown, Klobuchar, Gabbard and Gillibrand all currently qualify being that they all have scored 1% in three or more polls. Now, this is obviously super early, but why not make sweeping generalizations? I can tell you these ones will absolutely make it to the first two debates:

  1. Elizabeth Warren
  2. Julian Castro
  3. Tulsi Gabbard
  4. Kirsten Gillibrand
  5. Kamala Harris
  6. Cory Booker
  7. Amy Klobuchar
  8. Bernie Sanders
  9. Beto O’Rourke
  10. Joe Biden
  11. Michael Bloomberg
  12. Sherrod Brown

That leaves us with eight more to go. Based on that Morning Consult Poll, Bullock, Holder, and Hickenlooper scored 1%. Since we have such little data so early, I am going out on a limb and saying that in two future polls these candidates will also score that percentage.

13. Steve Bullock
14. Eric Holder
15. John Hickenlooper

There would be five more to go, but as I’m looking at my remaining names (Bennet, Inslee, Swalwell, Ryan, Moulton, Merkley, Williamson, Yang, McAuliffe, Delaney, Buttigieg), I honestly cannot imagine that, in such a crowded field, any of them could break through the ranks and get into a debate. I could be wrong, and I’ll be happy to see data that proves me wrong, but those are the 15 I see getting in. I will make the prediction that they will be split with eight on one night and seven on the other. That would help to not overcrowd the stage, starting with less present than the overwhelming 10 slots during the GOP 2016 primary debate.

I realize that the nights will be randomised, but I would be thrilled if this was the roster for each night:

Debate 1:
1. Bernie Sanders
2. Joe Biden
3. Kamala Harris
4. Michael Bloomberg
5. Julian Castro
6. Amy Klobuchar
7. Eric Holder

Debate 2:
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Beto O’Rourke
3. Sherrod Brown
4. Tulsi Gabbard
5. John Hickenlooper
6. Steve Bullock
7. Kirsten Gillibrand
8. Cory Booker


But we’ll see what happens as the months unfold. Maybe Delaney comes in first next week (probably not).

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