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It Looks Like Bullock Didn’t Qualify For The First Debate — But He’s Not Taking It Lying Down

June 13, 2019 4:01 p.m.

It appears that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (R) didn’t qualify for the first Democratic debate by a frustratingly thin margin and controversially disqualified poll.

But in classic Big Sky fashion, the governor is putting up a fight.

In order to qualify for the first DNC debate, the candidates needed to earn at least one percent in three national or early-state polls from January 1 to two weeks before the debate, or get 65,000 unique donations across 20 states with at least 200 individual donors per state.

For a while, it seemed that Bullock had it made. He’d hit the polling threshold, prompting his inclusion in many reports about the probable qualifiers.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the DNC disqualified a poll from the Washington Post and ABC that was put into the field in January, because it left the question of who voters wanted to see in the debate open-ended — in other words, the voters had to offer the name themselves instead of responding after hearing a list. It’s not entirely clear why the DNC felt that this format of question was lacking, and the organization did not prohibit its use in early qualifying guidelines.

The Bullock camp seems to share in this confusion, per a letter from Bullock campaign manager Jennifer Ridder to the DNC and obtained by Politico.

“While there has been discussion in the press regarding the status of the Washington Post/ABC poll from February 8, the poll plainly meets the standards published by the DNC,” Ridder said. “The poll was conducted by a DNC-approved vendor and the Governor meets the 1% threshold. In fact, polling experts agree that it’s actually harder to get 1% in an open-ended vote question than when a list is provided.”

“Since there is no sufficient warrant to exclude such a poll in either of the original rules or in the Polling Method Certification form promulgated by the DNC this week, the poll meets the DNC requirements and is valid,” she continues. “As such, Governor Bullock has met the threshold to qualify for the first debates and he looks forward to joining his colleagues on the state for this important occasion.”

The DNC has responded to previous expressions of disgruntlement from the Bullock camp by saying that his campaign was informed that the poll would not count as early as March (though the public just learned about it last week), and that he had plenty of time to compensate.

On top of that, were the DNC to allow Bullock to qualify, it would stir up another problem. Right now, 20 candidates seem to have qualified — aka, the cap on the number of debaters allowed into the event.

Should the poll be retroactively approved and Bullock allowed in, the DNC would have to hold a tiebreak. In that situation, candidates who qualified for the debates by both the polling and fundraising metrics would get spots first. After this premier group, the rest of the candidates would be ranked by polling averages. Things get even more hairy from there, based on how exactly tied the presidential hopefuls are, not least because NBC’s deadline to divvy up the qualified candidates into two nights of ten debaters is Friday morning.

For all of these reasons, it looks unlikely that Bullock will be suited up and behind a podium come next week.

Bullock’s late entry into the race appeared to be a contributing factor in his struggles to qualify: announcing on May 14, he was second only to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in tardiness. And a digital ad his campaign released Wednesday proffers a reason why it took Bullock so long to get into the race: he waited, his campaign claims, until the legislative session ended because he was “busy working with Republicans” to see that his state’s Medicaid expansion was reauthorized. The ad features Montanans testifying to the amount they would have suffered without his help.

Team Bullock followed up with an email blasted to supporters on Thursday, reminding them of the ad and collecting positive responses to Bullock’s decision to put Montana before his own presidential ambitions.  

“That is what it is, and there is no way I could have gotten into the race earlier. I had a job to do,” Bullock told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re still some 235 days away from the first man or woman casting any kind of a decision. There is still a long way to go.”

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