A Complete Guide to the Democratic Debates for the 2020 Presidential Primary

The first three Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential election are in the bag and the fourth will take place on Oct. 15. 

When and How to Watch the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debates

The Democratic National Committee has approved up to 12 debates, with six scheduled for 2019 and six more set for 2020. 

The New York Times and CNN will co-host the fourth presidential debate in Westerville, Ohio, at Otterbein University on just one night, Oct. 15, despite 12 candidates having said they met the qualification requirements, CNN reported. This will be the second primary debate of the cycle hosted by CNN and the first for the Times in more than a decade, the newspaper reported. It will take place at 8 p.m. ET and can be viewed on both organizations' platforms. National Public Radio will also air the debate. 

ABC News' hosted the third debate on Sept. 12 at Texas Southern University in Houston. The debate was harder to qualify for than the first two (more on that below), and that higher threshold combined with a winnowing candidate pool meant this was the first of the 2020 Democratic debates to feature all the highest polling candidates on stage at the same time.

CNN hosted its debate on July 30 and 31 from Detroit, Michigan. Qualifying rules were the same as for the first debate.

The first debate, sponsored by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo, took place on June 26 and June 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, Florida. Watch everything each candidate said on night one and night two

The 12 Democrats Who Have Qualified for the Fourth Presidential Primary Debate in Ohio So Far Are

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Sen. Kamala Harris of California
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas
  • Former housing secretary Julián Castro
  • Billionaire activist Tom Steyer
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii

The 10 Democrats Who Made the Third Presidential Primary Debate Lineup in Detroit Were

ABC News said the following podium order (left to right) was set by polling averages, with the highest polling candidates closest to the center of the debate stage:

  • Sen. Klobuchar 
  • Sen. Booker
  • South Bend Mayor Buttigieg
  • Sen. Sanders 
  • Former Vice President Biden
  • Sen. Warren
  • Sen. Harris 
  • Entrepreneur Yang
  • Former Rep. O’Rourke
  • Former HUD Secretary Castro

Here is a look at the top moments

The 20 Democrats Who Made the Second Presidential Primary Debate Lineup in Detroit Were

CNN held a live drawing on July 18 to determine the debate order for each night.

The first group of 10 on Tuesday, July 30, were:
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Mayor Buttigieg, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Klobuchar, former Rep. O’Rourke, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Sen. Sanders, Sen. Warren and Williamson, the author.

The second group of 10 on Wednesday, July 31, were:
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Vice President Biden, Sen. Booker, former HUD Secretary Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Gabbard, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Harris, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Yang.

Here are a few more things to know about the CNN debate.

  • Night one included Sanders and Warren, who have each staked out aggressive, progressive policy positions. They did not go after each other as some predicted they might. 
  • Night two featured a rematch of Harris and Biden. During the first debate, Harris went after Biden over his record on race, in a moment that led the news in the days afterward.
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock made the debate stage for the first time, having secured his spot after Rep. Eric Swalwell of California exited the race.

The 20 Democrats Who Appeared in the First Presidential Primary Debate in Miami Were

The first group of 10 who appeared on Wednesday, June 26: Sen.Booker, Sen. Warren, former Rep. O’Rourke, Sen. Klobuchar, former Rep. Delaney, Rep. Gabbard, former HUD Secretary Castro, Rep. Ryan, New York City Mayor de Blasio and Washington Gov. Inslee.  

NBC News has a full transcript here.

More coverage from night one: 

The second group of 10 who appeared on Thursday, June 27: Sen. Harris, former Vice President Biden, South Bend Mayor Buttigieg, Sen. Sanders, Sen. Gillibrand, Sen. Bennet, Williamson, Rep. Swalwell, Yang and Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado.

NBC News has a full transcript here.

More coverage from night two:

Three candidates who failed to make the cut for the first debate were Gov. Bullock, Rep. Moulton, and Miramar Mayor Messam

Here is more information about all the candidates.

Who’s Running for President in 2020?

The race for the 2020 presidential election is underway, and the field of Democratic candidates is packed. Those who have announced presidential bids include a vice president, senators, House members and three mayors. As for the GOP, a single Republican has announced his bid to challenge President Donald Trump for the party nomination: former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who ran for vice president (and lost) in 2016 on the Libertarian party ticket.

Click the photos to learn more

Updated May 14, 2019
Credit: Jo Bruni, Emma Barnett, Asher Klein, Dan Macht, Kelly Zegers / NBC;  Photos: Getty Images

How Candidates Qualified for the First Two Democratic Presidential Primary Debates

In February, the DNC published specific debate guidelines spelling out what  candidates have to do to participate. 

Democratic candidates could qualify for the first and second debates by meeting one of the two following sets of criteria:

Criteria 1- Polling Method: Participants must 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 Jan. 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the debate. Qualifying polls will be limited to those sponsored by one or more of the following organizations/institutions: Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Des Moines Register, Fox News, Las Vegas Review Journal, Monmouth University, NBC News, New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), Quinnipiac University, Reuters, University of New Hampshire, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Winthrop University. Any candidate’s three qualifying polls must be conducted by different organizations, or if by the same organization, must be in different geographical areas.

Criteria 2 - Grassroots Fundraising Method: 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.  

If more than 20 candidates had qualified, here is how a tiebreaker would have worked, according to NBC News. Candidates who met both the polling and fundraising criteria would get preference. If that still didn't winnow the field, then preference would go to candidates with the highest polling average.    

How Candidates Were Selected for the Third and Fourth Debates

For the third and fourth debates, the DNC essentially doubled the polling and fundraising thresholds set for the first two debates — and required candidates to meet both standards, instead of just one or the other, NBC News reported.

Candidates needed to register at least 2 percent in four major polls conducted this summer and receive donations from at least 130,000 individual donors, including at least 400 in 20 states.

Since only 10 candidates qualified for ABC News' debate under the new standards, they all appeared on stage together for one night. The fourth debate will feature 12 canidates, also on one night. 

How Candidates Will Qualify for the Fifth Debate

We still don't know the date, location, or news outlet(s) that will host the fifth debate in November. But we do know it will become a little tougher for candidates to qualify

Candidates must have 165,000 unique donors, with at least 600 of those each coming from at least 20 states. 

Poll requirements will inch up to 3% in at least four national or early state polls. Or, a candidate could hit 5% support in two early state polls. The change would reward a candidate's momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire, The Associated Press reported.

Who Will Moderate the 2020 Presidential Debates?

CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett will co-moderate the fourth debate with the Times' national editor, Marc Lacey.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Linsey Davis and Univision's Jorge Ramos moderated the third debate.

CNN's Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper moderated the second debate on July 30 and 31, the network reported.

There were five moderators for the first debate: "TODAY" co-anchor and NBC News chief legal analyst Savannah Guthrie, "NBC Nightly News" and "Dateline" anchor Lester Holt, "Meet the Press" moderator and NBC News political director Chuck Todd, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and "Noticias Telemundo" and "NBC Nightly News Saturday" anchor José Diaz-Balart. 

Holt moderated for both hours. Guthrie and Diaz-Balart co-moderated for the first hour, while Todd and Maddow joined Holt for the second hour.

The DNC has said it will have at least one female and non-white moderator at each Democratic presidential debate.

"The DNC is committed to an inclusive and fair debate process," DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill told Refinery29, which first reported the debates would have at least one female moderator. "That means that all 12 DNC sanctioned debates will feature a diverse group of moderators and panelists including women and people of color, ensuring that the conversations reflect the concerns of all Americans."

HuffPost later reported that the debates will also include at least one person of color as a moderator, who could also be the same person as the female moderator. 

Which 2020 Candidates Have Dropped Out of the Race So Far?

  • Rep. Swalwell
  • Former Sen. Mike Gravel
  • Gov. Hickenlooper
  • Gov. Inslee
  • Rep. Moulton
  • Sen. Gillibrand
  • Mayor de Blasio

*Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz both considered running for president but decided against it.

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