Tom Steyer appears to qualify for next Democratic debate after new polls

New surveys in South Carolina and Nevada show that the billionaire philanthropist has met the polling threshold to appear in next week's debate in Iowa.
Image: US-VOTE-2020-DEMOCRATS-DEBATE
Tom Steyer at the sixth Democratic presidential primary debate in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer has met the qualifications for next week's Democratic presidential primary debate after two new polls released just a day before the deadline showed him with significant support in Nevada and South Carolina.

Steyer netted 12 percent of likely Nevada Democratic caucus-goers and 15 percent of likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters in the new polling, released Thursday night by Fox News.

The poll results make Steyer the sixth candidate to qualify for the debate stage, joining former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

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The lineup for next Tuesday's debate, sponsored by CNN and The Des Moines Register, won't be official until the Democratic National Committee certifies the field.

The qualification threshold also relies on donor information self-released by the campaigns.

Candidates have to raise money from 225,000 unique donors and hit one of two polling thresholds to make the debate stage. To meet the polling qualification, a candidate must register at least 5 percent support in four separate polls, taken either nationally or in any of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. The polling threshold can also be met if a candidate reaches 7 percent in two polls in any of those early states.

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There hasn't been much recent polling in Nevada or South Carolina, but the new results represent a significant increase from Steyer's standing in previous polls in those states. Steyer's campaign had previously announced that it had hit the unique donor threshold.

Steyer has blanketed both states (as well as Iowa and New Hampshire) with television and radio advertising.

In Nevada, he's spent $10.4 million of the $10.6 million spent by all of the Democratic candidates on TV and radio ads. And in South Carolina, he has spent $14 million of the $16.2 million the candidates have spent on such advertising, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

Candidates have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to qualify for next week's debate in Des Moines.

Businessman Andrew Yang says he's hit the donor threshold but has reached 5 percent in only one poll. The campaign of Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey also says that he has hit the donor threshold but that he hasn't reached 5 percent in any qualifying poll.

While former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg meets the polling requirement, he isn't soliciting individual donors. That decision all but guarantees that he won't be on the debate stage in January.