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The Top Democratic Candidates Are Urging The DNC To Change Its Debate Rules

Cory Booker's campaign circulated a letter to other campaigns — which have signed on — asking the DNC to change the debate rules that have left him off the stage.

Posted on December 14, 2019, at 3:47 p.m. ET

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Cory Booker has asked his fellow presidential candidates to sign a letter petitioning the Democratic National Committee to make its debate qualification rules less exclusionary.

All seven participants in next week's debate, as well as Julián Castro, who also has not qualified, have signed the letter, a DNC official said on Saturday afternoon.

Booker, the 50-year-old New Jersey senator who has struggled to move beyond low single digits in national and early state polls, failed to qualify for the Democratic debate next week in Los Angeles, falling short of current DNC rules requiring candidates to receive at least 4% support in four qualifying polls and have at least 200,000 unique donors.

On Friday, the day he failed to qualify for the stage, Booker’s campaign began circulating a letter asking the DNC to change the rules for January and February to the less stringent thresholds the party used earlier this year, when candidates could gain access to the stage by showing support by either a certain number in polls or in grassroots donors. They began requiring candidates meet both thresholds in September.

Booker has upped his criticisms of the DNC’s process over the last two weeks, particularly since Sen. Kamala Harris ended her campaign. The party, he said, is enforcing “artificial rules” that would have hurt successful past candidates like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama while allowing billionaires like Tom Steyer to get on the debate stage. Booker and Castro, who also did not qualify for this month’s debate, have argued that the party’s rules make the debate stage less diverse. The party, Booker told BuzzFeed News last week, has created a framework that is “going to have the unintended consequence of excluding people of color.”

The letter, according to a copy of a draft obtained on Saturday, cites a group of 50 members of the New Hampshire Democratic Party central committee who voted unanimously last week to urge the DNC to “lift the barriers” on participation in further debates.

“While we know this was an unintended consequence of the DNC’s actions, many of the candidates excluded due to these thresholds are the ones who have helped make this year’s primary field historically diverse,” the letter reads. “Frankly, that unintended result does not live up to the values of our Democratic Party and it does not serve the best interest of Democratic voters, who deserve to hear from and be able to choose among the best our party has to offer.”

The Booker campaign declined to confirm the existence of the letter or say which rival candidates have signaled a willingness to sign on.

The DNC has already announced four debates for the start of 2020 — one in Iowa in January ahead of the state’s caucus and three in February. The party has not yet said how candidates will be able to qualify for those debates, or if the qualifications would be uniform for each.

Under the change Booker has proposed, the roster could balloon back to double digits, potentially requiring the DNC to return to a two-night format. It could have the side effect of placing another billionaire — Michael Bloomberg — onstage via the polling requirement.

In a statement provided on Saturday, the DNC's communications director, Xochitl Hinojosa, defended the debate qualification criteria as “extremely low.”

“The DNC has led a fair and transparent process and even told campaigns almost a year ago that the qualification criteria would go up later in the year — not one campaign objected," the statement said. "The DNC will not change the threshold for any one candidate and will not revert back to two consecutive nights with more than a dozen candidates.”

Once voting begins in February, Hinojosa said, “our criteria will reflect those contests, which is more than appropriate. We’re proud to have given candidates so many opportunities to get their message across, and will continue to have fair criteria that reflects each point in the race.”

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