This might be a surprise…
Rep. Seth Moulton — Seth who? — became the fourth candidate to leave the Democratic presidential nomination race in 2020. In fact, in the previous two weeks, many applicants have dropped out: former Gov. John Hickenlooper, current Gov. Jay Inslee, and Moulton. Now Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has dropped out too. Americans can expect to see more Democrats throwing in the towel.
While a whopping 21 candidates obtained the privilege of on-stage discussion in June and July, there is a much greater limit for qualifying for the September and October debates, and only 10 have applied so far. Democrats need to have at least four polls showing them at two percent or higher and at least 130,000 unique donors.
The top three candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have qualified for the September debates, along with seven others. Sen. Kamala Harris has taken a tumble in the polls and now ranks with Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., in a middle tier above the lower tier of candidates.
Five candidates in that lower tier have also qualified for the September debates: Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke; former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Tom Steyer, the environmentalist activist who made his billions by investing in coal, has reached the donor threshold and just needs one more qualifying poll. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard needs two more polls. Author Marianne Williamson stays she has enough donors but she hasn’t broken two percent in any qualifying poll.
Some 2020 Democrats have left the race for greener pastures or to shore up their current positions. Rep. Eric Swalwell, the first too drop out back in July, faced a serious primary challenger for his House seat. Moulton faces three Democratic challengers. Hickenlooper jumped into Colorado’s U.S. Senate race a mere week after dropping out of the presidential race.
People don’t just run for president because they want to sit in the Oval Office. A presidential run gives an ambitious politician — or non-politician — a tremendous public platform. Millions of Americans watch the debates, candidates receive a great deal of media coverage, and many of them ink lucrative book deals. Former candidates often score cabinet positions or ambassadorships — or jobs in the media. These ulterior motives help explain why the Democratic primary is packed to the gills.
While it may seem silly that the cap for the next round of debates is a mere two percent, the Democrats need to winnow the field somehow. Candidates who cannot make the debate stage often fail to attract media attention, and both donors and voters lose interest. Even if a candidate has ulterior motives for running, his or her campaign will soon become more trouble than it’s worth without debate performances.
Most likely, Gillibrand won’t be the last candidate to drop out before the September debates.
If you’re not going to win anyway, it becomes far less lucrative to run for president when you can’t make it on the debate stage.