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Democratic Debate Grows To 6 Candidates As Steyer Hits January Threshold

Six candidates have qualified for next Tuesday's Democratic debate: former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer.
Chris Carlson

The Democratic stage will be the smallest yet for next Tuesday's Iowa debate, with just six candidates set to qualify.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer on Thursday likely became the latest candidate to qualify after two Fox News polls from Nevada and South Carolina showed him in the double digits. Steyer has been spending millions of dollars in early states to boost his chances.

That means he will join the other five candidates who had already qualified: former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The debate will be Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 9 p.m. ET and is being hosted by CNN and The Des Moines Register. The deadline to qualify is by midnight Friday, Jan. 10, but no other candidates appear close to meeting the Democratic National Committee's threshold.

As it has with each previous debate, the DNC instituted dual polling and fundraising requirements. Candidates must hit 5% in at least four national polls or at least 7% in two early-state polls. And they have to get 225,000 unique donors from 20 states.

Nonprofit executive Andrew Yang, who is the only other candidate who had made December's debate, looks to fall short of the January cutoff, since he has only one qualifying poll with just a day to go until the deadline. Fourteen total Democrats are still running though.

The ever-shrinking debate stage should offer more time for candidates to engage with each other and offer substantive responses, with less than three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

The most recent polls in that first state have shown Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders fighting for first place, though a new Iowa survey by respected state pollster J. Ann Selzer for the Register and CNN is set to be released Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Warren has faded in recent weeks in polling, while Klobuchar has seen a boomlet following strong performances in the past two debates. And Steyer has seen a surprising surge given his spending, which has dwarfed that of most of the field.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have qualified for this debate based on polling, but he is entirely self-funding his campaign and not accepting any donations. He has instead been focusing his attention on the more delegate-rich states that will vote on Super Tuesday on March 3.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.