Democratic Debate Participants: How They Were Chosen

Getty The highly anticipated Democratic debates will take place in Miami on June 26-27.

The Democratic primary field is very large, exceeding 20 candidates. The Democratic National Committee was responsible for choosing who would make the stage for the first Democratic debate.

Ultimately, the DNC decided to allow 20 candidates on stage using two different benchmarks. The DNC cut four candidates and split the field into two different days: Wednesday, June 26, 2019, and Thursday, June 27, 2019.

How did the DNC pick the debate participants? First of all, after the candidates passed at least one of two tests set by the DNC, they were given a day randomly. That’s why Joe Biden ended up on, say, a debate stage with Andrew Yang but not, say, Elizabeth Warren.

However, there was a little more to it than that. “The candidates were randomly selected from two boxes, with the candidates who had earned an average of 2 percent support in polls in one box, and the remainder in another box,” according to CBS News. That’s probably why one of the two debates (Wednesday) kind of feels like the “understudy” group – most of the biggest names are debating on Thursday, such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Who actually made the stage at all was not random however.

Here’s what you need to know:

The DNC Set Two Different Benchmarks to Qualify as a Democratic Debate Participant

According to Politico, the Democratic National Committee set two different thresholds for qualifying for the Democratic debate stage, and presidential candidates had until June 12 to cross one of them or they didn’t make the stage. Some candidates fell by the wayside, including Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Bullock’s campaign was understandably upset by the DNC’s rules, calling them “arbitrary,” according to Politico.

According to Politico, these are the tests that each candidate had to meet to qualify:

1. “Earning 1 percent in three polls approved by the DNC.” The Atlantic defined this rule as “three separate national or early-state polls.” OR:
2. “Receiving donations from 65,000 people, with 200 in 20 different states.”

Thirteen candidates hit both of those benchmarks, but a candidate only needed to meet one or the other to qualify. Those who met both benchmarks are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker, Marianne Williamson, Jay Inslee, and Amy Klobuchar.

Some candidates have complained that they’re being pressured to pay money unnecessarily and unwisely to drive up their donor counts. “If you want to be president of the United States, you have to develop a proficiency at grassroots fundraising. That’s the only way we win,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said to The Atlantic. The DNC is planning to hold about a dozen debates, according to the Atlantic.

FiveThirtyEight pointed out that the threshold to enter the debate is actually pretty low, which is likely a reflection of criticism that the DNC weathered in the 2016 election, especially from Bernie Sanders’ supporters, who felt the DNC had shaped the election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

The Candidates Were Split Into Two Different Days

democratic debate lineup thursday

GettySee Thursday’s Democratic debate lineup and list.

First of all, you can watch the debates from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time on both June 26 and June 27, 2019 on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo.

How else to watch the first Democratic debate? “The debate will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including,, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms,” NBC News announced. “NBC News will also stream the debates live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” You can find NBC News’ YouTube channel here.

The Democratic National Committee decided which candidates would take the stage on which day through random drawing. However, the DNC did establish criteria beforehand to determine which candidates could make the stage at all.

The lineup determined by the DNC was as follows:

Thursday, June 27, 2019:
Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and Eric Swalwell.

Candidates who debated on Wednesday, June 26, 2019: Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee and John Delaney.

Who did not qualify? Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. Seth Moulton, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam and former Sen. Mike Gravel.