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Tom Steyer's $12 Million Money Bomb Blew Up in His Face

The billionaire activist didn't make the cut for the next primary debate, despite spending a fortune to secure donors and name recognition.

by Cameron Joseph
Aug 28 2019, 1:43pm

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WASHINGTON — Tom Steyer looks like he’s been stymied.

The billionaire Democratic activist failed to reach 2% in what appear to be the final two polls that could have qualified him for September’s Democratic debates, leaving him off the primary debate stage — and putting all of the Democratic front-runners on stage together for the first time.

Barring a better finish in a surprise release of another qualifying poll before the midnight Wednesday deadline, the next Democratic presidential primary debate in Houston on Sept. 12 will be capped to one night with ten candidates.

Two more polls were released Wednesday morning, just hours from the cutoff — and both found Steyer below 2% nationally among Democrats. In a USA/Suffolk University poll he was at 1%, and Quinnipiac University’s survey found him at 0%.

Steyer has spent upwards of $12 million since he entered the race in early July, in an effort to buy his way into the debates. He’s poured most of that into TV ads in the early states to boost his name identification and numbers for early-state polls that would have qualified him for the debates. The DNC requires candidates to hit 2% or higher in four different national and early-state polls.

He’s also spent heavily on Facebook ads to find the 130,000 donors needed for the Democratic National Committee’s other debate requirement. But while he surpassed the donor threshold, he only made it to 2% in three polls.

This doesn’t mean Steyer is going away, however. The October Democratic debate has the same qualifying thresholds as September, and Steyer still has a good chance of finding one more qualifying poll in the next month. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) are also in the hunt, with enough donors and at least one qualifying poll. That means the October debates could spread back out over two nights again.

But for now, it looks like Democrats will get to see their entire field of top-tier candidates in one place, with Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) appearing onstage together for the first time. Joining them: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and businessman Andrew Yang.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Tom Steyer waits to speak at the Des Moines Register Soapbox during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

democratic primary
2020 election
democratic debates