Montana Gov. Steve Bullock submitted paperwork to the Democratic National Committee asserting that he has qualified for the first primary debate at the end of June, setting up a showdown between the party committee and red-state governor.
“Governor Bullock has met the threshold for qualification for the first debate,” Bullock campaign manager Jenn Ridder said in a letter to DNC chairman Tom Perez, obtained first by POLITICO.
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But that’s an assessment the DNC likely disputes.
At issue is if Bullock has crossed the polling threshold to qualify for the first debate at the end of June. Candidates needed to earn at least 1 percent in three polls conducted by qualifying organizations and released by the end of Wednesday. But Bullock’s case hinges on the rules surrounding a single poll released in January by ABC News and The Washington Post.
The ABC/Post poll showed Bullock receiving 1 percent support — but the question was open-ended, meaning respondents had to volunteer a name instead of being read a list of candidates.
The DNC told POLITICO last week that it would not count those open-ended polls for qualification — which ultimately left Bullock one poll short from qualifying.
At the time, Bullock’s camp was sharply critical of the move. The DNC countered that Bullock’s camp was well aware that the ABC/Post poll would not count, and that that information had been relayed to the campaign as early as March — but the DNC did not publicly announce this decision until last week. Previously, many poll trackers — including POLITICO and MSNBC, one of the media sponsors for the first debate — believed Bullock had crossed the polling threshold.
“While there has been discussion in the press regarding the status of the Washington Post/ABC poll [from January], the poll plainly meets the standards published by the DNC,” the letter from Ridder continued. “Since there is no sufficient warrant to exclude such a poll in either of the original rules or in the Polling Method Certification form promulgated by the DNC this week, the poll meets the DNC requirements and is valid. As such, Governor Bullock has met the threshold to qualify for the first debates and he looks forward to joining his colleagues on the stage for this important occasion.”
The initial set of rules laid out by the DNC listed both ABC News and The Washington Post as qualified poll sponsors and did not explicitly rule out open-ended polling.
On Wednesday, Bullock’s team seemed resigned to his fate that he wouldn’t make the first debate.
“You won’t see Gov. Steve Bullock at the first debate, and I’m the reason why,” Montanan Madison Johnson said in a video released by the campaign, referring to Medicaid expansion in his state. “Before he could run for president, Steve had to convince a Republican legislature to save my health care — and he did. … That might not mean much at the DNC in Washington, but it means everything to me.”
Even if the DNC ultimately relents and rules that Bullock has qualified for the debate stage, there is a second conundrum.
A POLITICO analysis finds that 20 candidates have already qualified for the debate, and the DNC has previously said it will allow no more than 20 candidates on stage at the end of the month.
If Bullock is determined to have qualified by the DNC, 21 total candidates will have qualified, triggering a set of tiebreaker rules if the committee insists on its 20-candidate limit. Candidates who “double qualified,” meeting both the polling and donation criteria, take priority.
After that, candidates will be ranked based off their polling averages, and if candidates have identical polling averages, the next step is to compare the number of polls that have shown each candidate with at least 1 percent support.
In POLITICO’s analysis, several candidates other than Bullock have a polling average of 1 percent — including Rep. Eric Swalwell, Sen. Michael Bennet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Rep. John Delaney. If Bullock qualifies, he is exactly tied with Swalwell — with both having 1 percent in exactly three polls, the bare minimum to qualify.
The DNC did not return a request for comment early Thursday morning. But the DNC has previously declined to answer questions on what would happen, should there be an exact tie between the 20th and 21st candidate.
The committee has little time to deliberate, however. The random drawing dividing candidates between the two nights of the debates is slated for Friday.