On Friday, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) — Seth who? — will become the fourth candidate to drop out of the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In fact, three candidates dropped out in the past two weeks: former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), current Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), and now Moulton. Americans can expect to see more Democrats throw in the towel as August 28 approaches.
While a whopping 21 candidates received the privilege of debating on stage in June and July, the threshold to qualify for the September and October debates is much higher, and only 10 have qualified so far. August 28 is the cut-off for the September 12 and 13 debates. Democrats need to have at least four polls showing them at 2 percent or higher and at least 130,000 unique donors.
The top three candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have qualified for the September debates, along with seven others. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has taken a tumble in the polls and now ranks with Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., as in a middle tier above the lower tier of candidates.
Five candidates in that lower tier have also qualified for the September debates: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Tom Steyer, the environmentalist activist who made his billions by investing in coal, has reached the donor threshold and just needs one more qualifying poll. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) needs two more polls. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has only broken 2 percent in one poll and her campaign says she’s close to the donor threshold. Author Marianne Williamson stays she has enough donors but she hasn’t broken 2 percent in any qualifying poll.
Some 2020 Democrats have left the race for greener pastures or to shore up their current positions. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), the first too drop out back in July, faced a serious primary challenger for his House seat. Moulton faces three Democratic challengers. Hickenlooper jumped into Colorado’s U.S. Senate race a mere week after dropping out of the presidential race.
People don’t just run for president because they want to sit in the Oval Office. A presidential run gives an ambitious politician — or non-politician — a tremendous public platform. Millions of Americans watch the debates, candidates receive a great deal of media coverage, and many of them ink lucrative book deals. Former candidates often score cabinet positions or ambassadorships — or jobs in the media. These ulterior motives help explain why the Democratic primary is packed to the gills.
While it may seem silly that the cap for the next round of debates is a mere 2 percent, the Democrats need to winnow the field somehow. Candidates who cannot make the debate stage often fail to attract media attention, and both donors and voters lose interest. Even if a candidate has ulterior motives for running, his or her campaign will soon become more trouble than it’s worth without debate performances.
Most likely, Moulton won’t be the last candidate to drop out before the September debates. In fact, he likely won’t be the last to drop out before August 28. At this point in the race, it’s more costly to stay in than to drop out.
If you’re not going to win anyway, it becomes far less lucrative to run for president when you can’t make it on the debate stage.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.