It's crunch time for the remaining Democrats to qualify for the next debate

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Democratic presidential candidates take the stage for a debate hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 30, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidates take the stage for a debate hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 30, 2019.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — It’s crunch time for the remaining Democrats to qualify for the third presidential debate: Two weeks before the qualification deadline, Democratic presidential candidates are racing — and spending money — for the right to make the third debate in September.

Tom Steyer, who joined the 2020 field just a month ago, spent $1.2 million on Facebook ads in the last week alone, per NBC’s Ben Kamisar.

And that’s on top of the millions he’s already dropped on TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Kirsten Gillibrand, who’s been in the race since January, is up with a $1 million-plus advertising buy in Iowa and New Hampshire.

She had more than $8 million in the bank as of June 30 to spend (due to transfers from her Senate account).

And new from this morning: Julian Castro is going to air a TV ad on Fox News in Bedminster, N.J. — where President Trump is spending his August vacation.

So far, according to NBC’s count, nine Democrats have qualified to make that third debate stage — by raising money from 130,000 unique donors and reaching at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls all by Aug. 28.

Those nine: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang.

So the field is going to be cut in half — more or less — by September.

And those who haven’t made it are acting as if their candidacies hinge on making the debate stage.

Because they do.

One other thing: It’s no coincidence that Steyer — via his big bucks over the airwaves in Iowa and New Hampshire — is now closer to qualifying for the third debates than other candidates who have spent more time campaigning on the ground.

Hong Kong protests shut down airport — again

Meanwhile, here’s a story — thousands of miles away — that’s worth watching.

“All check-in services at Hong Kong airport's main terminal shut down for a second day on Tuesday after protesters blocked the entrance of the building,” per Reuters and the AP.

“Unrest has roiled the Chinese semi-autonomous region for 10 weeks this summer, as thousands of residents chafe at a perceived erosion of freedoms and autonomy under Beijing's rule.”

And: “The increasingly violent demonstrations plunged the Asian financial hub into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.”

2020 Vision: Mark Sanford heads to New Hampshire

It sure seems like former South Carolina Gov. and Congressman Mark Sanford is getting closer and closer to a GOP primary challenge against President Trump.

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“Mark Sanford, still mulling a possible 2020 presidential bid, will travel to New Hampshire on Tuesday as he nears a final decision on launching a serious run against Donald Trump," the Charleston Post and Courier writes.

More: “In an interview with The Post and Courier, the former South Carolina congressman and governor said his trip to the key early presidential primary state will not include public events.

Instead, he will be ‘quietly having meetings’ with individuals he trusts to give him honest feedback on the best political path forward.”

On the campaign trail today

Bernie Sanders continues his swing through New Hampshire, hitting Berlin and Littleton… Pete Buttigieg delivers his Iowa State Fair Soapbox speech… And Julian Castro also stumps in the Hawkeye State, holding a housing town hall in Des Moines and a meet-and-greet in Marshalltown.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Kamala Harris is leaving her Iowa swing with quite the prize. NBC’s Maura Barrett and Priscilla Thompson report, “Kamala Harris rolls away with one of the biggest endorsements in the Iowa caucus to date, from the Asian-Latino Coalition. The group boasts 400 members of diverse backgrounds, in addition to a large membership of Caucasian voters who regularly attend candidate events, which have become a key stop for presidential hopefuls early in their campaigns.”

Bernie Sanders continued to discuss his press coverage during town halls. NBC’s Gary Grumbach reports from New Hampshire, “’I talk about that all of the time and then I wonder why the Washington Post which is owned Jeff Bezos- who owns Amazon, doesn’t write particularly good articles about me,’ Sanders said. ‘I guess maybe we helped raise the minimum wage at Amazon to 15 bucks an hour, as well. Maybe that’s why the Washington Post is not endeared to me, I don’t know.’”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 36 percentage points

36 percentage points.

That’s the gap between the share of Republicans who think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (34 percent) and the share of Democrats who say the same (70 percent), according to new data from PRRI.

The 36-point partisan gap is larger than it was in 2014, when the gap stood at 28 percent.

The same survey found that, despite new legal pushes in red states to ban abortion outright, only 22 percent of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all cases. In fact, there is no state in which more than 25 percent of residents say abortion should always be illegal.

The Lid: Give me your tired, your poor

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we delved into new poll data about how Americans view immigrants and their contributions to the country.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

FBI agents have raided Jeffrey Epstein’s private Caribbean island. (And the House Judiciary Committee is looking for answers about Epstein’s death.)

The Washington Post: “From race to plastic straws, Trump dials up culture wars in divisive play for 2020 votes.”

One of the most consequential results of “red flag” laws might not be preventing mass shootings — but reducing suicides.

The head of U.S. special operations forces has ordered a review of culture and ethics after recent scandals.

Portland, Oregon is bracing for a far-right rally and counterprotest this weekend.

Trump Agenda: Endangering the Endangered Species Act

The Trump administration is trying to dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act.

White conservative women have played a significant role in abortion policy changes this year.

A fourth board member has resigned from the NRA.

2020: All about Medicare-for-All

The Washington Post checks in on how Bernie Sanders is making Medicare-for-All the centerpiece of his campaign.

Harry Reid, in a New York Times op-ed, says “the filibuster is suffocating the will of the American people.”

Bill de Blasio says he’ll still campaign even if he doesn’t make the next debate.

Donald Trump Jr. is again a coveted surrogate on the campaign trail.