Campaigns slam new debate rules, as DNC changes make way for Bloomberg to be on stage

The Democratic National Committee has altered the criteria to qualify for the Nevada debate, almost doubling the polling threshold and eliminating donor requirements —which could make way for Michael Bloomberg to make it on stage.

The change has caused backlash from presidential candidates, as well as from Sen. Cory Booker’s former campaign staff, who criticized the DNC as changing the rules in the middle of the game. Booker, who dropped out several weeks before the Iowa caucuses, said Friday they previously redirected campaigns funds to help bring in donors specifically to meet the debate thresholds.

To qualify for the Nevada debate, candidates must receive 10% or more in at least four polls between Jan. 15 and Feb. 18, which include national polls or Nevada and South Carolina state polls, or hit at least 12% in two polls in Nevada and South Carolina.

Candidates can also qualify for the debate if they get one delegate in either Iowa or New Hampshire. There will be no donor requirements. The Nevada debate will be held on Feb. 19, with the state’s caucus four days later on Feb. 22.

More:How do the Iowa caucuses work and how they are different than a primary?

Despite meeting past polling requirements for the Iowa and New Hampshire debate, Bloomberg has yet to make it on to the stage due to the donor threshold. Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and billionaire, is not accepting donations to his campaign.

Although Bloomberg doesn’t qualify for the Nevada debate currently, he is rising in polling and could reach the threshold before the Feb. 18 deadline. He was at 10% in a national Fox News poll released on Jan. 26.

Bloomberg’s campaign praised the DNC’s new rules.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

But several campaigns criticized the DNC’s decision to eliminate the donor threshold.

“To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong,” Sanders’ senior advisor Jeff Weaver said in a statement. “That’s the definition of a rigged system.”

SY Lee, national press secretary for Andrew Yang, said the new rule is a “mistake.”

“It’s a mistake for @TheDemocrats to change the rules for debates in the middle of this race to yield to a billionaire,” he wrote in a tweet. “We need to respect the grassroots movement leading this party forward.”

Some criticized the DNC for not doing this sooner, saying a donor threshold hurt candidates who didn’t have a lot of money like Booker or former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

“Let’s make one thing clear: Changing the rules now to accommodate Mike Bloomberg and not changing them in the past to ensure a more diverse debate stage is just plain wrong,” billionaire and presidential candidate Tom Steyer said in a statement. “The Democratic Party should be doing everything possible to ensure a diverse field of candidates. Instead, they are changing the rules for a candidate who is ignoring early states voters and grassroots donors.

Booker’s former campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, wrote in a tweet that one of the most significant days on the campaign was when the DNC raised the donor threshold.

“I have been asked what the most significant day of the campaign was and that is hard to do without more perspective than I have (right now),” Demissie wrote in a tweet. “But on the list, without question, is May 29, 2019 — when the donor threshold was raised to 130k. That’s all I will say about this today.”

Booker’s deputy campaign manager, Jenna Lowenstein, replied to the tweet, saying: “Oh, do you mean the day I literally Control+A+ Deleted a plan for a whole entire early game, early state persuasion strategy and used the money to buy email addresses instead? I don’t remember it. Blacked it out.”

This is the first debate where there is not a donor threshold. To qualify for the New Hampshire debate, which will be held on Feb. 9, candidates have to reach a 225,000 donor threshold, with at least 1,000 donors coming from at least 20 different states.

In addition, candidates have to receive 5% or more in at least four polls, which include national polls or state polls for New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, or receive 7% or more support in two state polls in New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. They could also qualify for the debate if they get at least one delegate in Iowa.

Thus far, only three candidates would qualify for the Nevada debate: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, in addition to Biden, Sanders and Warren, have all made it to the New Hampshire debate.

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