Only white candidates have qualified for next week’s Democratic presidential debate, the first time in this election cycle that no minority contender will make the stage. It’s a dynamic that critics say threatens to undercut the party’s rhetoric of inclusivity.
The race for the 2020 Democratic nomination kicked off last year with a historically diverse pool of candidates, including two black senators, a black mayor, a Hispanic former Cabinet secretary and an Asian businessman. Since then, all have either dropped out or failed to qualify for a spot on the stage, determined by poll numbers and donations.
Now the specter of an all-white debate in the mostly white state of Iowa is prompting concern among party activists.
“Both the way the primary is set up and the way debates are done are a problem,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a racial justice organization. “The system they have designed has suppressed the most loyal base of the Democratic Party.”
He added: “Anyone with an understanding of civil rights law understands how the rules can be set up to benefit some communities. The Democratic Party should look at the impact of these rules and question the results.”
The Democratic Party has held six debates so far, with the seventh scheduled for Tuesday. The party will host at least five additional debates in 2020.
Candidates qualify based on public polling and the number of small donors they attract. Over time, those standards have risen, winnowing the field.
For Tuesday’s debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, candidates must show contributions from 225,000 unique donors and reach 7 percent support in two polls of early states, or 5 percent in at least four polls of early states and national surveys.
The latest survey, released hours before Friday’s midnight cutoff, showed the four top candidates clustered in the lead. The poll, sponsored by the Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom, showed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., attracting 20 percent of the vote; Sen. Elizabeth Warren garnering 17 percent; Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent; and former vice president Joe Biden with 15 percent.
Nobody else achieved more than 10 percent in a poll with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
The whiteness of the debate stage – and the top candidates – has been an issue for weeks. During the last debate, businessman Andrew Yang called it “an honor and disappointment” to be the only person of color included.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told the Associated Press this week that he had one of his best fundraising days during the December debate, even though he wasn’t on the stage, because of the “reaction of the absence of me, and frankly, people with more diverse lived experiences.”
The Democratic National Committee, which runs the debates, has defended its rules, saying the requirements were set well in advance and that the stage reflects the preferences of voters, including voters of color.
“We’ve set forth a clear set of transparent, inclusive rules,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said this week in an interview with MSNBC, adding: “We set those rules out in advance. And it’s for the voters to decide.”
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Source: SF Gate