WASHINGTON - Struggling Democratic presidential candidates braced for bad news Wednesday with the window to qualify for the next debate set to close at midnight, a near impossible deadline for many to make that could doom their campaigns.
Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and self-help guru Marianne Williamson were among those on the outside looking in.
In order to appear on stage in Houston next month, they have to hit 2% in at least four approved public opinion polls while securing 130,000 unique donors by the deadline. Two new polls released Wednesday affirmed that they were all below the threshold.
With few other developments expected during the day, it was likely to stay that way.
“Our rules have ended up less inclusive ... than even the Republicans,” Bullock said on MSNBC, referring to the thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee. “It is what it is.”
In a still-crowded Democratic field, not qualifying for the debate would severely cripple the prospects of several candidacies, though many have vowed to forge on in hopes of reaching the requirements in time for the next debate in October.
Steyer, a late entry to the race, is the closest to qualifying.
He and Gillibrand both poured millions of dollars into Facebook and TV ads to boost their standing. While Steyer met the donor threshold, he was still one poll shy. Gillibrand was three polls away and had yet to lock in enough donors.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was two polls away from qualifying and Williamson was three polls away. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also fell far short.
In a memo, Bennet’s campaign lamented rules that have “created a reality show with unending coverage on process rather than substance.”
Though earlier debates had lower thresholds to qualify, the DNC raised the stakes for the coming two. Ten candidates have qualified: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.
If that holds, the September debate would be the first of the cycle held on a single night. Earlier debates featured 20 candidates split across two nights.