Democratic debate appears set for 10 candidates after Tom Steyer fails to qualify

With hours to go before the deadline to make the stage next month, two new surveys did not give the billionaire what he needed.
Image: Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.
Tom Steyer at a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — Billionaire financier Tom Steyer, who has been under fire for trying to buy his way onto the Democratic presidential debate stage, appears to have failed to make it.

Two polls released Wednesday morning, hours before the midnight deadline to qualify, didn't give Steyer or any other struggling candidate what they needed to qualify.

The development likely keeps the total number of qualified candidates at 10 and means the ABC-sponsored debate next month in Houston probably will be confined to one night, since organizers said they would be forced to spread the debate over two nights if 11 candidates qualify.

New national polls from USA Today/Suffolk University and Quinnipiac University both found Steyer with less on than 1 percent support. He needed one more poll showing him at 2 percent or higher to qualify.

Steyer has spent nearly $12 million on TV and digital advertising since entering the race last month, according to Advertising Analytics data provided to NBC News, more than six times his closest Democratic competitor.

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The new polls show former Vice President Joe Biden continues to run ahead of the pack, despite a poll this week that showed him fading, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren appearing to slightly overtake Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for second place.

The USA Today/Suffolk University Poll showed Biden at 32 percent, up 2 percent from their last survey, followed by Warren at 14 percent and Sanders at 12 percent. Quinnipiac found the same level of support for Biden, but placed Warren's support at 19 percent followed by Sanders at 15 percent.

Both polls showed little movement in the rest of the field, with California Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, roughly tied for fourth in the mid-single digits.

Biden continues to be buoyed by perceptions that he has the best chance to beat President Donald Trump. Quinnipiac found all five leading candidates would beat Trump by fairly comfortable margins if the election were held today, but that Biden's margin was the biggest — 54 percent to 38 percent.

Candidates have until midnight Wednesday to show the Democratic National Committee they have met both thresholds to qualify: earning donations from 130,000 people and at least four polls showing them at 2 percent or more.

While it's still possible a new poll could come out before that deadline, no pollster has announced intentions to do so yet.

The 10 candidates who have qualified already are: Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Quinnipiac's survey was conducted Aug. 21 to 26 and includes a sample of 648 Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters with a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

The USA Today/Suffolk poll was conducted Aug. 20 to 25 with a sample of 424 registered voters who said they plan to vote in the Democratic primaries or caucuses and has a margin of error of 4.76 percentage points.