The final presidential debate of 2019 is Thursday. Or is it?

by | Dec 17, 2019 | 2020 Elections, Politics

The stage is set for the final debate of Democratic presidential candidates this year. Seven candidates are expected square off in the race to see who will face Donald Trump next year. But there’s a wrinkle.

As of Tuesday morning, the Thursday debate wasn’t a sure thing, given a labor dispute at the debate site: Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Sodexo, a food services company, and the food workers’ union are at odds at the university. 

All of the candidates have said they won’t cross the picket line, meaning they will side with labor and not participate in the debate, at least at this location.

Negotiations, led by the Democratic National Committee, between the workers and the company continue.

Assuming the debate is still on for a moment, former Vice President Joe Biden will again be joined by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, environmentalist Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also met the threshold to participate. 

Yang was the last candidate to qualify, and his late entry to the debate prevented the DNC from the awkward possibility that no candidates of color would reach the stage. In the wake of California Senator Kamala Harris exiting the race, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro reported receiving a surge of donations but were unable to meet the polling threshold to be included.

In a letter to the DNC signed by every candidate to qualify for the December debate, Booker and Castro called for the DNC to re-evaluate their criteria for the January debate to potentially allow them (and other candidates like former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg) to take the stage in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. 

Thus far, the DNC has balked at making any changes to the selection criteria, arguing that candidates have known the plan for months and that none objected to the escalating qualifications at the outset of the race.

The counterpoint for candidates like Booker and Castro is that they’ve continually met the ever-more-challenging donor thresholds, only to be denied entry on the basis of a small number of curated polls,

The campaigns think their ability to attract donations from 200,000 unique donors should be more persuasive. If we’re going strictly on the math, they’re right on the merits.

A more creative, and perhaps effective, solution might be to produce smaller, issue-focused debates where candidates can more clearly flesh out the differences among them. 

Just imagine a debate with only the mayors in the race, with Castro and Booker, joined on stage by Buttigieg and Bloomberg. Or a purely center-left versus farther left debate where Biden and Klobuchar would square off with Warren and Sanders.

Either one of those scenarios seems more interesting than the prospect of another three-hour, overcrowded debate.  

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Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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