The DNC is planning 12 presidential primary debates over the 2020 cycle, but news networks had been vying for the rights to air the first match-ups between the Democratic candidates.
Because the field is expected to be so large, each debate will likely take place over two consecutive nights. Candidates will qualify for the debates based on polling and performance in grassroots fundraising. Each night’s slate of contenders will be picked at random.
“We’ve spent months working with media partners to provide this unprecedented opportunity for candidates and voters to get to know each other,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC. “Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we’ve also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before.”
The DNC previously announced that it planned debates each month for the remainder of 2019. The next six debates will be held in the first four months of 2020. The location, venue, moderators, and other details are still to be announced.
Fox News aired the first Republican debate of the last election cycle in August, 2015, drawing 24 million viewers, a ratings record. CNN aired the first Democratic debate in October of that year, with a hefty 15.3 million viewers.
The criteria for the first debates will be for a candidate to register 1% or more support in three polls publicly released between January 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the event. The DNC also said that the polls could be national, or a combination of one or more polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada.
The polls also much be sponsored by one or more of a list of organizations and news outlets: The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Des Moines Register, Fox News, Las Vegas Review Journal, Monmouth University, NBC News, New York Times, National Public Radio, Quinnipiac University, Reuters, University of New Hampshire, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post and Winthrop University. The three qualifying polls must come from different organizations or geographic areas.
Candidates also may qualify by showing that the campaign has drawn donations from at least 65,000 unique donors, and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
The DNC also indicated that it was putting a 20 candidate limit on the debates. It said that if more than 20 candidates qualify, they will select the field “using a methodology that gives primacy to candidates meeting both thresholds, followed by the highest polling average, followed by the most unique donors.”
Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, sent out a memo to employees calling the networks’ securing of the first debate “a great testament to the hard work of the entire politics team, our commitment to dogged reporting, and the reach and influence of NBC News.”
“Our coverage will reflect what the American people have come to expect of us: a substantive, rigorous, and inclusive examination of the candidates’ views across the most important issues,” he wrote.
CNN’s debate coverage will be across a number of their platforms, including CNN International and CNN en Espanol.