Window to qualify for next debate closing quickly on Dems

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling Democratic presidential candidates braced for bad news Wednesday with the window to qualify for the next debate set to close at midnight, a near impossible deadline for many to make that could doom their campaigns.

Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and self-help guru Marianne Williamson were among those on the outside looking in.

In order to appear on stage in Houston next month, they have to hit 2% in at least four approved public opinion polls while securing 130,000 unique donors by the deadline. Two new polls released Wednesday affirmed that they were all below the threshold.

With few other developments expected during the day, it’s likely to stay that way.

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Steyer, a late entry to the race, is the closest to qualifying among this group.

He and Gillibrand both poured millions of dollars into Facebook and TV ads to boost their standing. While Steyer met the donor threshold, he was still one poll shy. Gillibrand was three polls away and had yet to lock in enough donors.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was two polls away from qualifying and Williamson was three polls away. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also fell far short.

In a still-crowded Democratic field, not qualifying for the debate would severely cripple the prospects of several candidacies. Still, many have pledged to continue on, hoping they can reach the requirements before the following debate in October.

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Though earlier debates had lower thresholds to qualify, the Democratic National Committee raised the stakes for the coming two. As of now, 10 candidates have reached the qualifying thresholds on donors and polling. If that holds, the September debate would be the first of the cycle held on a single night. Earlier debates featured 20 candidates split across two nights.