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Democrats change debate rules, benefiting billionaire Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg

Rule that kept other candidates off the state now being dropped.

Posted: Jan 31, 2020 7:28 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Democratic National Committee has dropped grassroots fundraising qualifications for the party’s Feb. 19 debate before the Nevada caucuses, opening the possibility that billionaire Michael Bloomberg could make his first appearance on stage.

The party announced Friday three different ways for candidates to reach the debate stage that involve reaching certain polling thresholds or banking a convention delegate in the first two nominating contests held in Iowa and New Hampshire. All previous debates have included a fundraising element, and since September, candidates have had to reach both polling thresholds and grassroots fundraising marks. Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, has not yet hit the polling marks, but he will have until Feb. 18, the day before the debate, to do so — a prospect that pleases some rivals and incenses others.

Under the DNC rules, candidates have multiple paths to the stage: reach 10% support in some combination of four national polls or early state polls from Nevada or South Carolina; reach 12% support in two polls from Nevada or South Carolina or both; or bank a convention delegate in Iowa or New Hampshire, which host the first two nominating votes in early February.

Party Chairman Tom Perez and his aides have said for months that the DNC would likely shift to qualifying standards based on actual results once voting began. But the move is nonetheless significant given Bloomberg’s unique presence in the race.

The ultrabillionaire is self-funding his White House bid — spending at least $188 million from the time he entered the race on Nov. 24 until the end of the year, according to disclosures filed Friday — and thus never could have qualified had Perez continued to require debate participants to reach a certain number of donors.

The Bloomberg campaign praised the DNC's decision to change the debate rules.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together," campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

Bloomberg underscored recently that he had no intention of accepting contributions, even from small-dollar donors. “I don't even want the appearance of impropriety, and I hope party leaders change the rules," he said while campaigning in Texas, but "if they don't, so what? ... I'm going to take my message directly to the voters."

Rival campaigns have complained for weeks that Bloomberg has been avoiding scrutiny as he spreads his personal fortune across Super Tuesday states, part of his unusual campaign that is skipping the first four states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Bloomberg donated more than $100,000 to the DNC just days before he entered the race; candidates typically make such contributions to get access to the party's national voter database.

But how to treat him on the debate stage is a tricky proposition for the campaigns. Some candidates have argued he should be subjected to the same questioning they've endured for months, yet rival campaigns also are wary about validating Bloomberg as a legitimate threat. And they already privately acknowledge that his personal fortune makes him a variable they must consider, regardless of the debates, as they try to amass the nearly 2,000 delegates that will be necessary to win the nomination.

Relaxing rules that govern debates almost certainly will leave some former candidates unhappy. Julián Castro and Cory Booker, in particular, have complained that the DNC's rules unfairly targeted minority candidates because even grassroots donor bases are whiter than the Democratic electorate.

In response to the rules change, Booker's former campaign manager Addisu Demissie sent out a tweet with a GIF of Justin Timberlake looking incredulous. Asked for additional comment, Demissie pointed back to the tweet.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser for Bernie Sanders, said it would be “wrong” to change rules that would "accommodate Mayor Bloomberg, who has raised no grassroots donations and is instead flooding the airwaves across the country funded by his billions of dollars of personal assets.”

“Now, at this late hour, to change the rules to accommodate a billionaire who wants to buy his way into the party would be unconscionable," Weaver said. “No one should be allowed to buy their way onto the debate stage or the nomination.”

Echoing the Sanders team, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren said there shouldn't be a separate set of rules for billionaires.

“The DNC didn’t change the rules to ensure good, diverse candidates could remain on the debate stage. They shouldn’t change the rules to let a billionaire on,” Warren tweeted.

Other Democrats have encouraged the DNC to allow Bloomberg's participation.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said this week that she'd be “fine" with Bloomberg being on the debate stage.

“I think that instead of just putting your money out there, he's actually got to be on the stage and be able to go back-and-forth so voters can evaluate him in that way," she said on MSNBC.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 327477

Reported Deaths: 3751
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin688981130
Ramsey28948512
Anoka23196232
Dakota23102194
Washington14590120
Stearns14314121
St. Louis9280117
Scott881056
Wright827145
Olmsted702536
Sherburne608243
Clay521359
Carver501315
Kandiyohi432024
Rice427738
Blue Earth426617
Crow Wing376237
Otter Tail332725
Chisago326914
Benton317253
Nobles313731
Winona292031
Douglas278439
Mower270623
Polk266226
Morrison241730
Lyon228712
Beltrami227518
McLeod226517
Becker217619
Goodhue216930
Steele20568
Itasca202223
Isanti199517
Carlton198417
Todd187414
Nicollet169426
Mille Lacs161231
Freeborn15966
Le Sueur153511
Brown151015
Cass149910
Pine14298
Waseca141811
Meeker139011
Roseau12475
Martin121221
Hubbard117728
Wabasha11041
Redwood101720
Chippewa9508
Cottonwood9284
Renville92729
Dodge9110
Watonwan8824
Wadena8537
Sibley8194
Rock8019
Aitkin79530
Houston7694
Fillmore7480
Pipestone74718
Kanabec67714
Yellow Medicine67612
Pennington6758
Swift6149
Murray6064
Faribault5902
Pope5641
Clearwater5389
Stevens5333
Marshall5289
Jackson5181
Lake4437
Wilkin4115
Koochiching4106
Lac qui Parle3984
Unassigned38259
Lincoln3721
Norman3638
Big Stone3332
Mahnomen3164
Grant2956
Kittson2408
Red Lake2283
Traverse1521
Lake of the Woods1021
Cook790

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 234817

Reported Deaths: 2486
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk34631341
Linn14655168
Scott1166189
Black Hawk11194139
Woodbury10622133
Johnson979337
Dubuque941594
Story698323
Pottawattamie664871
Dallas657159
Sioux380529
Webster371639
Cerro Gordo367649
Marshall357647
Clinton341444
Buena Vista313114
Des Moines298621
Muscatine298271
Warren291714
Plymouth284444
Wapello263772
Jones235917
Jasper229746
Lee225617
Marion210222
Carroll203624
Bremer200212
Henry19137
Crawford181016
Benton174023
Tama156641
Washington149715
Jackson148814
Delaware147021
Dickinson143811
Boone142412
Mahaska133328
Wright13007
Clay12254
Buchanan122010
Hardin121011
Hamilton117713
Page11664
Kossuth11608
Clayton11399
Cedar112513
Harrison110832
Floyd110219
Calhoun10907
Fayette108712
Mills10858
Lyon10619
Butler10576
Winneshiek102713
Poweshiek102013
Iowa100213
Winnebago94825
Cherokee9474
Chickasaw9084
Hancock9008
Sac8978
Louisa89321
Grundy88911
Allamakee87013
Mitchell8369
Cass83524
Union8166
Appanoose80713
Humboldt8015
Shelby79511
Emmet78626
Guthrie77115
Franklin76021
Jefferson7512
Madison7174
Unassigned7050
Palo Alto6734
Keokuk6477
Pocahontas5984
Howard5809
Osceola5411
Greene5401
Ida53013
Clarke5004
Montgomery49311
Davis4819
Taylor4773
Monona4516
Monroe45113
Adair4489
Worth3820
Van Buren3755
Fremont3743
Lucas3376
Decatur3290
Wayne3077
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Adams1792
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