Bloomberg may make it to Democratic debates following rule changes

The billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg could make the Democratic debate stage this month, after changes in qualification rules were announced by the party’s national committee.

Democratic leaders scrapped a requirement for candidates to acquire donations from thousands of supporters, a threshold Bloomberg could not cross after refusing to accept outside funding.

He will still have to get at least one delegate from the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, which he is not contesting, or reach 10% support in four national polls or 12% in two single-state polls in Nevada and South Carolina.

On 3 February, the midwestern state of Iowa will kick off the long process of choosing the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, who will take on Donald Trump in the US election in November. 

Most US states hold primary elections, in which voters go to a polling place, mail in their ballots or otherwise vote remotely. But a handful of states hold caucuses – complicated, hours-long meetings with multiple rounds of balloting until one candidate emerges as victor.

Both Democratic and Republican caucuses will take place on 3 February. But because Trump doesn't face any serious Republican challengers, all eyes will be on the Democratic contest. 

Put simply, Iowans aged 18 (at the time of the November 3 election) and over who are registered Democrats will gather in caucus sites (school gyms, churches, community halls) in their designated precinct, and vote with their feet by splitting into groups based on their preferred candidate. 

Once voting is over at a caucus site, the support for viable candidates (those with more than 15% of the votes) is translated into a number of “state delegate equivalents”. That result is used to calculate the number of national delegates each candidate receives. National delegates eventually choose the nominee at the Democratic convention in July.

On the night, the candidate with the most SDEs is considered the winner.

“Now that the grassroots support is actually captured in real voting, the criteria will no longer require a donor threshold,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

The next debate, in Manchester, New Hampshire on 7 February, will be staged according to the old rules. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, former vice-president Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire Tom Steyer have qualified.

As it stands, only Sanders, Warren and Biden are set to make the cut for the first debate under the new rules, in Nevada on 19 February.

Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said the campaign, which according to figures released on Friday spent close to $200m on administration and advertising in its first month, was “thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country, and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together”.

The rule change came as a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed Bloomberg ahead of Buttigieg and Klobuchar, rising to fourth place nationally among Democratic voters with 9% support. A Morning Consult poll this week put Bloomberg at 12%, two points behind Warren.

According to political analyst Charlie Cook, Bloomberg has a 20% to 25% chance of winning the nomination, with Biden at 40% to 50% and the last roughly 30% divided among Sanders, Warren and others. If Sanders does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bloomberg’s chances may increase as voters opposed to the leftwinger look for an acceptable centrist.

Sanders aides assailed the changes to DNC debate qualifications.

“That’s the definition of a rigged system,” said adviser Jeff Weaver. “To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong.”

An adviser to Yang also claimed the DNC was rigging the game.

“If you look at the new DNC debate thresholds as anything other than ‘Get Andrew Yang off stage and put Mike Bloomberg on,’ then you are high,” Brad Bauman posted on Twitter.

Others think Bloomberg’s presence will be a plus. Klobuchar this week told MSNBC: “I think that instead of just putting your money out there, he’s actually got to be on the stage and be able to go back-and-forth so voters can evaluate him in that way.”

Bloomberg’s campaign is set for a major push that will kick off with an estimated $11m spend on a 60-second ad during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

A released version of the ad, titled George, features Calandrian Kemp, an African American mother who lost her young son to gun violence. The ad notes that “2,900 children die from gun violence every year” before reiterating Bloomberg’s campaign promise to take on the gun lobby.

“Now we have a dog in the fight,” Kemp says.

According to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Bloomberg’s spending since launching his campaign in November has included $140m on TV and digital ads and $3m on polling and canvassers.

The former mayor has shelled out almost $1m on a temporary headquarters, $679,000 to house campaign workers in New York City, and $315,000 on food. Private plane use cost $646,000.

By some estimates, Bloomberg has allocated as much $1bn of his $60bn fortune to his attempt to win the presidency, starting with a primary campaign focused on delegate-rich states including California and Texas which will vote on Super Tuesday, 3 March.

“Our first month’s filing represents a down payment and commitment in all 50 states to defeat Donald Trump,” said Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager. “It shows we have the resources and plan necessary to take him on.”


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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