"The DNC is committed to an inclusive and fair debate process," DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill told Refinery29. "That means that all 12 DNC-sanctioned debates will feature a diverse group of moderators and panelists including women and people of color, ensuring that the conversations reflect the concerns of all Americans."
To our knowledge, this is the first time the DNC has made this type of rule. The majority of moderators in the 2008 and 2016 Democratic primaries were men, with some events moderated by a lone anchor, such as CNN's Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer — although the 2016 cycle was more inclusive, with journalists such as Martha Raddatz and the late Gwen Ifill asking the candidates questions. Taking the additional step of a requirement will help ensure that a variety of perspectives and issues, such as child-care costs, paid family leave, and maternal mortality, are represented in the debates.
The DNC has announced 12 presidential primary debates over the course of the 2020 election cycle — and there are so many Democratic candidates (24 major ones last we counted) that it has to split up at least the first couple among two nights. The first debate will be held on June 26 and 27 and hosted by NBC, in partnership with MSNBC and Telemundo. The second will be held on July 30 and 31 and hosted by CNN. The third will be held on September 12 (and potentially September 13, depending on how many candidates go out Hunger Games-style) and hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision. All of the debates will be livestreamed for free online.
In order to narrow the large field of candidates, the DNC announced Wednesday that it has raised the threshold to qualify for the third debate. To qualify for the first and second debates, for which there's a 20-person cap, candidates need to register 1% or more support in three polls, or receive donations from at least 65,000 individual donors and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 states. (Here's where it gets tricky: If more than 20 candidates clear those qualifications, the participants will be chosen using a methodology that favors those who tick both boxes.) But to qualify for the third and fourth debates, candidates will need to both: register 2% or more support in four polls, and get 130,000 unique donors and a minimum of 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
While some have questioned whether the DNC's requirements are fair metrics for inclusion on the debate stage, DNC Chair Tom Perez says the thresholds were developed to make sure candidates keep grassroots support top of mind. "That was designed with an understanding that if you want to win the presidency, you've got to have a grassroots strategy," Perez told Vox.
Before the DNC's announcement, the women's rights organization UltraViolet asked Democratic candidates to sign a pledge not to participate in debates without a female moderator. Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren signed the pledge. Three weeks ago, UltraViolet sent a letter to media organizations covering the presidential primaries asking them to treat male and female candidates equally in their reporting, which includes having female moderators at each debate.
"We are proud to have helped usher in this change," Shaunna Thomas, cofounder and executive director of UltraViolet Action, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Women, and especially Black women, are the bedrock of the Democratic party."
This story has been updated.