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

Everything you'll need to know for the upcoming Democratic presidential debates in 2019 and 2020

The first five Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential election are in the bag and the sixth will take place on Dec. 19. 

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 first four debates of 2020 will be held in early voting states, in some cases days before those contests.

The Next Democratic Debates
PBS NewsHour and Politico will host the next debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19. The debate is set to occur the same week President Donald Trump faces a historic impeachment vote in the House.

CNN and The Des Moines Register will host the seventh debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 14. The Iowa caucuses will be held on Feb. 3.

ABC, WMUR-TV and Apple News will co-host the eighth debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester on Feb. 7, four days before New Hampshire's primary.

NBC News and MSNBC will partner with The Nevada Independent to host the ninth debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, three days before the Nevada caucuses.

CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, in partnership with Twitter, will co-host the 10th Democratic debate at The Gaillard Center in Charleston on Feb. 25, four days before the South Carolina primary.

Previous Democratic Debates
MSNBC and The Washington Post co-hosted the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on Nov. 20. It was the second time MSNBC has hosted a debate of this cycle.

The New York Times and CNN co-hosted the fourth presidential debate in Westerville, Ohio, at Otterbein University on Oct. 15, with 12 candidates sharing the stage over three hours. This was also the second primary debate of 2019 hosted by CNN and the first for the Times in more than a decade, the newspaper reported

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

Democrats Who Have Qualified for the December Debate Are

Seven candidates have qualified for the PBS NewsHouse/Politico debate, according to a tally by NBC News. They are:

Sen. Kamala Harris of California would have qualified but she dropped out of the race. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said even if she qualified she would skip the debate. This will be the first debate since the billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg entered the race.

The 10 Democrats Who Qualified for MSNBC's November Debate Were

The 12 Democrats Who Qualified for the Fourth Presidential Primary Debate in Ohio Were

  • Sen. Klobuchar
  • Sen. Booker
  • Mayor Buttigieg
  • Sen. Sanders
  • Former Vice President Biden
  • Sen. Warren
  • Sen. Harris
  • Entrepreneur Yang
  • Former Rep. O’Rourke 
  • Former housing secretary Castro
  • Billionaire activist Steyer
  • Rep. Gabbard

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 top moments from the debate, where the top leaders in the polls all shared the stage for the first time. 

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.

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. SwalwellYang and Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado.

NBC News has a full transcript here.

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.

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 1Polling 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 Qualified for the Fifth Debate

The fifth Democratic presidential primary debate on Nov. 20, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Georgia, became a little tougher for candidates to qualify

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

Poll requirements inched 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.

How Candidates Qualified for the Sixth Debate

The sixth Democratic debate in Los Angeles became even harder for candidates to qualify.

They needed to secure 200,000 unique donors and hit either 4% in four national or state polls or 6% in two early state polls.

How Do Candidates Qualify for the 2020 Democratic Debates?

The DNC has not yet listed qualification criteria for the first four debates of 2020 in early voting states.

Who Is Moderating the Democratic Debates?

The Next Debates
PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, PBS NewsHour senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz, and PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor will co-moderate the Dec. 19 debate in Los Angeles, Politico announced.

Moderators for future debates haven't been announced.

Previous Moderators
The fifth debate on Nov. 20 was moderated by Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC; Andrea Mitchell, host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on MSNBC and NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News' White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post.


CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett co-moderated the fourth debate with The New York 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 DNCsanctioned 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
  • Rep. Ryan
  • Rep. O'Rourke
  • Mark Sanford
  • Sen. Harris
  • Gov. Bullock
  • Joe Sestak
  • Richard Ojeda
  • Mayor Messam

*Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz considered running for president but decided against it.

Who’s Running for President in 2020?

The field of Democratic 2020 presidential candidates is packed, though some have already dropped out. Those still in the race include a former vice president, senators, businessmen, House members, a former governor and a mayor. As for the GOP, a former governor and former congressman are vying to challenge President Trump.

Click the photos to learn more

Updated Nov. 20, 2019
Note: Incorrect information about Michael Bennet’s cancer diagnosis and titles for Joe Sestak and William Weld have been revised on July 29, 2019, 3:17 p.m. ET.
Credit: Jo Bruni, Emma Barnett, Asher Klein, Dan Macht, Kelly Zegers / NBC;  Photos: Getty Images

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