Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley on Friday criticized qualification criteria for the upcoming NBC News-YouTube Democratic debate, saying that the network is "treating your presidential selection process as if it's another episode of 'The Apprentice.'"
"Bad enough that we would be limited to only four debates and that they would hide them on Saturdays behind football games," said the former Maryland governor, who could fail to meet the network's public polling threshold to qualify to participate in the January 17 showdown. "But now they tell us that they can't really manage, perhaps, a three-way race. Well, I've got news for them. This election is not up to NBC executives, not up to pollsters, it's up to you, the people of Iowa."
O'Malley made the comments to about 90 attendees at a campaign stop at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 431 in Davenport, Iowa.
Earlier Friday, NBC News announced the criteria for the January 17 NBC News-YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, SC.
The criteria reads: "To qualify, candidates must reach an average of 5 percent either nationally or in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina in the five most recent polls recognized by NBC News published before January 14, 2016." NBC News lists 12 national polling organizations and a series of state-based polls that the network recognizes.
With six days until the deadline for new polls to be considered, it's unclear whether O'Malley would meet the criteria to make the stage. A current tally shows that O'Malley would be positioned as of today to meet the five percent average in the state of Iowa, thus qualifying for the debate.
O'Malley's primary opponents, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have voiced support for the former Baltimore mayor, saying they believe he should be on the stage.
"We believe all three candidates should participate in the South Carolina debate, and oppose any criteria that might leave someone excluded," tweeted Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also tweeted Friday that she "expects" to see all three candidates in Charleston.
O'Malley has previously objected to the debate process, lobbying for additional forums and criticizing the DNC for "burying" coverage of the candidates' clashes.