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Initial Democratic Primary Debates Will Accommodate Up To 20 Candidates

With a large field of candidates expected, the Democratic National Committee is laying out how it will accommodate candidates for presidential debates.
Andrew Burton
Getty Images
With a large field of candidates expected, the Democratic National Committee is laying out how it will accommodate candidates for presidential debates.

Given the historically large number of Democrats expected to run for president in 2020, the Democratic National Committee is preparing to host the first two primary debates, with each debate split into two consecutive nights to accommodate up to a maximum of 20 candidates.

The DNC announced details Thursday for the first two primary debates of the season.

The first debate, scheduled for this June, will be broadcast on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. The second debate, slated for July, will be broadcast on CNN.

Both debates will be carried on back-to-back nights if needed to accommodate the large field. And they"ll also both be available to stream online for free.

All "qualified" candidates are eligible to participate. A DNC official said a candidate could qualify by meeting one of two criteria:

  • Garner at least 1 percent support in three separate polls
  • Meet the grassroots fundraising threshold, which requires obtaining 65,000 unique donors and a minimum of 200 donors per state in at least 20 states
  • If more than 20 candidates meet one of these benchmarks, the top 20 candidates will be selected using a methodology that prioritizes those who met both. After that, candidates will be selected mostly determined by polling.

    There will not be a first-tier and second-tier debate stage. The candidate lineups for each night will be selected through a random lottery process.

    All of these changes are intended to increase trust and transparency, following criticism the DNC received in 2016 for seeming to favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

    The DNC had previously announced that it would hold a total of 12 primary debates during the 2020 cycle, about one a month beginning in June of this year.

    Debates are scheduled for June, July, September, October, November and December of 2019, and January, February, March and April in 2020.

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    Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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