DNC makes big change to debate criteria, in likely boost for Bloomberg

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Friday unveiled new criteria for candidates to qualify for the Feb. 19 presidential nomination debate — including a big change likely to pave the way for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to make the stage for the first time.

All of the debates in the first eight rounds — including the upcoming Feb. 7 debate in New Hampshire — have included both polling and individual donor thresholds for the candidates to reach to qualify for the primetime showdowns.

But starting with the Nevada debate, which will be held in Las Vegas three days before the state’s caucuses, the DNC is dropping the individual contributor requirements. That could allow Bloomberg to finally qualify. The multi-billionaire business and media mogul, who declared his candidacy just two months ago, has avoided fundraising and seeking out individual donors as he self-funds his White House bid.

Also Read: Bloomberg spotlights gun control record in Super Bowl ad

“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’s campaign manager Kevin Skeekey said.

To make the stage in Las Vegas, candidates will need to reach 10 percent support in four national polls or surveys in Nevada and South Carolina, which holds its primary a week after Nevada and is the final of the four early states to hold a contest. Alternatively, the White House hopefuls can qualify by reaching 12 percent in two polls conducted in Nevada or South Carolina. The polls must be released between Jan. 15 and Feb. 18, the day before the Nevada debate.

The showdown in Las Vegas takes place after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary; any candidate who earns at least one delegate from either of those contests to the party’s national presidential nominating convention in July in Milwaukee will also qualify.

The polls the DNC is using to determine the polling criteria are The Associated Press, ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/YouGov, CNN, Fox News, Monmouth University, National Public Radio, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, NBC News/Marist, The New York Times, Nevada Independent/Mellman Group, Quinnipiac University, USA Today/Suffolk University and Winthrop University. The DNC said it reserves the right to add a Nevada-specific or South Carolina-specific poll to its list in the coming days.

Also Read: Biden takes solid Iowa poll lead two weeks out

The DNC’s change to the debate criteria was quickly criticized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ presidential campaign.

“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. That’s the definition of a rigged system,” senior Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement.

During his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders and supporters heavily criticized the DNC for a lack of debates. After months of protests, Sanders and his rival — eventual nominee Hillary Clinton — agreed with the DNC to add more debates later in the primary calendar.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — another 2020 Democratic nomination rival — earlier this week called for Bloomberg to join the stage.

“I’d be fine with him being on the debate stage because I think that instead of just putting your money out there, he’s actually got to be on the stage and be able to go back and forth so voters can evaluate him in that way,” Klobuchar said Tuesday in an interview on MSNBC.

Fox News’ Andrew Craft and Kelly Phares contributed to this report.