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Mike Bloomberg could qualify for Democratic debates after DNC rule change

Bloomberg denies "buying" Dem nomination
Mike Bloomberg denies "buying" the 2020 Democratic nomination 07:20

The Democratic National Committee is changing the qualifications for candidates to participate in the Nevada presidential primary debate, including eliminating the unique-donor threshold, paving the way for billionaire Mike Bloomberg to potentially qualify for future presidential debates.

To make the debate stage in Las Vegas on February 19, candidates need to meet either a new polling threshold or received pledged delegates. For polling, presidential hopefuls must receive either 10% in four state or national polls or 12% in two state polls out of either Nevada or South Carolina from a list released by the DNC. Those polls must be released between February 15 and 11:59 p.m. ET on February 18.

Candidates can qualify based on pledged delegates. Those delegates will be awarded based on the results of the Iowa caucuses on February 3 as calculated and reported by the Iowa Democratic Party or the New Hampshire primary on February 11 as calculated and reported by the Associated Press. 

Based on a CBS News analysis, only three candidates are currently qualified to participate: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. All candidates have until February 18 to qualify. 

For the first time, there is no unique donor threshold to be met by candidates trying to make it to the debate stage. This could benefit Bloomberg, a multi-billionaire who has said he would not seek donations for his presidential bid. The requirement has kept him off the debate stage in the past. He hasn't yet reached the polling threshold, but his support is ticking up recent polls show. 

"We are 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," Bloomberg's campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, said in a statement. "Mike has run for office three times and never taken a dime from special interests, allowing him to act independently, on the merits, without having to do what donors expect. He is proud to be doing the same with this campaign." 

Other campaigns however are unhappy with the decision. 

"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," said Bernie Sanders senior campaign adviser Jeff Weaver in a statement. "That's the definition of a rigged system."

"Let's make one thing clear: changing the rules now to accommodate Mike Bloomberg and not changing them in the past to ensure a more diverse debate stage is just plain wrong," said candidate Tom Steyer. "Back in December, I called on the DNC to open up the debate requirements so that more candidates, including candidates of color, would be able to participate. The Democratic Party should be doing everything possible to ensure a diverse field of candidates. Instead, they are changing the rules for a candidate who is ignoring early states voters and grassroots donors."

The ninth debate in Las Vegas will be hosted by NBC News and MSNBC in partnership with the Nevada Independent newspaper. 

It comes after another debate in Manchester, New Hampshire on February 7. CBS News will also host a debate February 25 in Charleston, South Carolina. The qualifications of the South Carolina debate have not yet been released.

Tim Perry contributed to this report.

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