MANCHESTER, N.H. – One week ahead of the Democrats' next presidential nomination debate in Houston, three of the lower-tier candidates who failed to make the stage are vowing to march on and taking aim at the Democratic National Committee over the qualifying criteria.
“Look. I don’t think it matters,” billionaire environmental and progressive advocate Tom Steyer told Fox News when asked if not making the stage would set back his White House bid.
Steyer, who was interviewed as he arrived in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire, vowed that “we’ll keep going, doing exactly what I’m doing here in New Hampshire. I will keep talking to people and getting my message out.”
The philanthropist, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, declared his candidacy just two months ago. He jumped into the race too late to qualify for the second-round debates, which were held at the end of July.
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer greets voters during a campaign stop in Concord, NH on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019
He reached one of the two DNC thresholds to make the cut for the third and fourth round debates – campaign contributions from 130,000 unique donors. But he ended up one poll shy of reaching the other criteria – hitting at least 2 percent in four qualifying national or early voting state surveys.
Steyer, who used millions of his own money to blanket the cable news networks and the airwaves in the early voting states with TV commercials this summer, highlighted that “people are hearing my message and responding to it.”
And he blamed a dearth of qualifying polls for his failure to make next week’s debate stage, emphasizing that “they just haven’t run any polls in the early voting states.”
In his interview, Steyer also jabbed at some of the other Democratic nomination contenders over one of his key issues – climate change.
“I will declare a climate emergency on day one of my presidency,” he said.
And pointing to his rivals who “have plans that sound great,” he said it’s not enough unless they “are willing to say that.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii ended up two polls short of qualifying for next week’s debate. Unlike Steyer, the Hawaii national guard officer and Iraq War veteran was less diplomatic in her critique of the DNC.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve seen really a lack of transparency in how the DNC is choosing which polls they would recognize as qualifiers,” she told reporters after headlining the "Politics and Eggs" speaking series in New Hampshire Thursday morning.
Looking to next week’s showdown, she acknowledged “it would have been good to be there. It’s a great platform to speak to millions of people in the country.”
She called failing to make the cut “a minor setback but it’s not one that can’t be overcome.”
Gabbard was optimistic she’d make the October primetime showdown, but added “the debate is not the only way to reach voters so really what I’m focusing on is continuing to move forward, spending time with voters here in New Hampshire. We just left Iowa and continue to bring our message to people.”
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii speaks with voters after headlining ‘Politics and Eggs’ at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, on Thursday September 5, 2019 in Manchester.
Former three-term Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, a long-shot who came nowhere close to qualifying for the debate, also blamed a lack of polling for failing to make the stage.
“There weren’t a lot of polls in August. That was part of the problem,” he told Fox News on Wednesday.
But Delaney, a multi-millionaire who’s mostly self-financing his campaign, also fell short of reaching the fundraising criteria. He called the donor threshold “a ridiculous requirement.
Delaney noted that the DNC’s “never done anything like this before. I think in many ways the Republicans did it better last time, because they let everyone debate and they had two different stages. So if you were polling better, you were on the first stage and if you weren’t polling as well you were on the second stage. At least that allowed everyone to be debating and I think that was a better approach than what the DNC is doing.”
He admitted that “it’s always better to be in the debates.”
But he downplayed the significance of the debates, saying “I was in the first two debates. It’s not clear that the debates changed anything for anyone.”
With five months to go until Iowa and New Hampshire kick off the presidential nominating calendar, Delaney said, “I do think it’s early. When I travel around here in New Hampshire, my sense is that people are just starting to dial in.”
And he emphasized “I’m planning on staying in. Period.”
Delaney did set a deadline, stressing that, “I have to do well in Iowa and I have to do well in New Hampshire. So that to me is the big deciding point in the campaign.”