2020 presidential Democratic debate: Everything you need to know

The first debate will take place on June 26 and June 27 in Miami.
Image: Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Steve Bullock.
Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Steve Bullock.Reuters / AP

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By Dareh Gregorian

The field is set for the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 election, and it includes some longtime legislators, a former vice president and two political novices.

Here's what you need to know about the first face-off of the Democratic presidential primary.

When and where is the first Democratic debate?

The debate will take place on June 26 and 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.

The two-night event is hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, and will air live across all three from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m ET both nights. The debate will also stream online free on NBC News' digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, in addition to Telemundo's digital platforms.

Who are the moderators?

Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate, NBC announced Tuesday.

Both debate nights will have the same format. Holt, the anchor of "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt" and "Dateline NBC," will moderate the first hour with Guthrie, the co-anchor of "Today" and NBC News' chief legal analyst, and Diaz-Balart, the anchor of "Noticias Telemundo" and "NBC Nightly News Saturday," appearing alongside him.

Holt will also appear in the second hour, with Todd, NBC News' political director and the moderator of "Meet the Press with Chuck Todd," and Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC, moderating.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 18, 2019.Mark Makela / Reuters file

Who qualified for the debate?

The Democratic National Committee, which is sanctioning the debate, set two ways for candidates to qualify — fundraising and polling. The fundraising component included raising money from at least 65,000 donors, with a minimum of 200 donors per state from 20 states. The polling component required candidates to poll at 1 percent or above in three different surveys recognized by the DNC.

The DNC announced the 20 candidates who made the stage on June 13. The candidates who qualified under both criteria, according to the committee, are:

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  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Sen. Kamala Harris of California
  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
  • Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington
  • Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro
  • Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Author Marianne Williamson

Those who qualified by polling at 1 percent or above were:

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell of California
  • Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
  • Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland

Who did not qualify?

One of the last entrants into the race, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, hit 1 percent in two qualifying polls, but was unable to reach the mark in a third. Three other candidates, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida, and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska have not hit 1 percent in any qualifying polls, an NBC News review found.

How are the candidates be divided over two nights?

The DNC tried to avoid the "kids' table" complaints that were lodged against the Republican National Committee in the run-up to the 2016 election — where front-runners in the large field of candidates were given one forum and lower-tier candidates another.

Candidates were divided into two groups — those who polled on average at or above 2 percent through midnight on Wednesday, June 12, and those who polled on average below 2 percent through midnight on Wednesday, June 12. A random draw took place on Friday, June 14, pulling from each of the respective above groups to create two separate groupings of 10.

The first group appearing on Wednesday, June 26 is:

  • Booker
  • Warren
  • O’Rourke
  • Klobuchar
  • Delaney
  • Gabbard
  • Castro
  • Ryan
  • de Blasio
  • Inslee
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a rally at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California on May 31, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file

The second group appearing on Thursday, June 27 is made up of:

  • Sanders
  • Harris
  • Biden
  • Buttigieg
  • Bennet
  • Williamson
  • Swalwell
  • Gillibrand
  • Yang
  • Hickenlooper

Who's next to whom?

Their places on stage were determined based on each of the candidates' qualifying public polling through June 12, NBC announced. The placements started with the top polling candidates — Warren and O'Rourke on the first night, and Biden and Sanders on the second — at the center positions. The lower polling contenders are closer to the edges of the stage.

The Night One lineup from left to right is de Blasio, Ryan, Castro, Booker, Warren, O'Rourke, Klobuchar, Gabbard, Inslee and Delaney.

The Night Two lineup from left to right is Williamson, Hickenlooper, Yang, Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders, Harris, Gillibrand, Bennet and Swalwell.

Will the rules change for later debates?

The DNC says it will use the same criteria for the second two-night debate on July 30 and 31 in Detroit, which will be hosted by CNN.

The benchmarks will change for the third debate on Sept. 12 and potentially a second night on Sept. 13, which will be hosted by ABC and Univision. To take part in that debate, candidates will have to show they've received donations from 130,000 different donors, including at least 400 from 20 different states. They'll also have to hit at least 2 percent in four different qualifying polls.

These changes are guaranteed to reduce the size of the field.

Ben Kamisar and Alex Seitz-Wald contributed.