Jay Inslee, the governor who would be president, faces a different lineup but the same challenge this week as Democrats hold their second televised debate. Move the poll needles.
In the ranked drawing last week – which was sort of like the bracket selection for the NCAA basketball tournament, but with far fewer people giving a darn – Inslee got a slot on the second night.
That was the better night in the June debates, because of the cluster of top-level candidates at center stage. More people tuned in to see the possible face-off between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But it was California Sen. Kamala Harris who seemed to learn the biggest lesson of that first night, which was interrupt when you see an opening and don’t stop talking just because some moderator says you should.
Harris used that tactic effectively to skewer Biden on what no one thought was a hot topic of the 2020 campaign: forced busing of schoolchildren.
Because of the way the candidates were chosen for this second round, each night is guaranteed to have two of the top-polling candidates at center stage. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Harris versus Sanders presents a battle of the progressives on the first night and a Biden versus Harris rematch is on the second. One might accuse host CNN of rigging the drawing to create those lineups, were it not for James Earl Jones embedded in our brains saying it is “the most trusted name in news.”
In each case, the top-drawer candidates will be flanked by three people who have polled at least 2% in some polls – not a terribly impressive requirement – while five people who are in the 1% range are on the periphery.
Inslee will find himself on the right wing as one looks at the television screen the second night, sandwiched between Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
This could prove to be a problem for Inslee, who had such trouble breaking into the fray in the first debate that one late-night comic described him as a guy trying unsuccessfully to order a drink at a bar. Worse yet, he’s likely to have to out-shout de Blasio, who showed no reluctance to break into other people’s discussions in the previous debate. Timekeepers said Inslee had the fewest minutes talking on camera of any of the candidates in the first debate.
Sure, he got applause by saying the biggest threat to the country was Donald Trump. But that didn’t translate into a measurable uptick of support in the polls.
Candidates who are trailing in the polls are usually the first ones to say polls don’t matter, and no one should believe that a current poll is a predictor of an election some 15 months away. But Tuesday and Wednesday night are important for Inslee and the other 10 candidates who are stuck at 1 percent in the polls.
Along with having at least 130,000 separate donors, double the requirement for these first two debates, they must excite the public consciousness enough to at least double their polling numbers or sit out the next round of debates in September.
One might think that bagging 130,000 donors would be more difficult than getting to 2 percent in a poll. But with all the ways candidates have of asking for money by splitting a donation between a local, state or national party and themselves, or just outright begging for a buck or two on Facebook, the donor requirement is likely the easier of the two. Anyone who can’t meet that threshold is probably unqualified to be a presidential nominee who must eventually raise millions.
That’s not to say that someone who can’t get money from 130,000 donors in the next month or so isn’t qualified to be president, just probably not qualified to be the nominee.
Talking climate talk
Inslee has been pushing for a debate on climate change for months, and the Democratic National Committee has been saying no for about as long.
In September, there will be two chances for candidates to weigh in on the issue Inslee has at the center of his campaign. But he may only get to participate in one.
Georgetown University announced last week it will have a two-day Climate Forum on Sept. 19 and 20, inviting all declared 2020 presidential candidates for both parties. They’ll get equal time to present their plans for combating climate change, and take questions from students from Georgetown and other universities. It will be broadcast by MSNBC.
CNN announced Thursday it will sponsor a “climate crisis” town hall for Democratic presidential candidates on Sept. 4. Although that may be right in Inslee’s wheelhouse, he might not get an invite. The cable news network is restricting it to people who meet the Democratic National Committee thresholds for the September debates – 2% in four recognized polls and at least 130,000 separate donors – and Inslee doesn’t qualify yet under those rules.
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