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Here’s everything you need to know about the November Democratic debate

Making the stage was a whole lot tougher.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Third Debate In Houston
Democratic candidates gather for a debate in Houston.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

The fifth Democratic presidential debate is set to take place on November 20 in Atlanta, and will be hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. It will feature a (slightly) smaller slate of candidates, and will be a crucial opportunity for top-tier contenders to further establish themselves as the early primaries approach.

The debate is expected to air on MSNBC and Radio One, and stream live on and It will be moderated by an all-female panel of journalists and hosted at filmmaker Tyler Perry’s studios in Atlanta. Since the criteria for making the stage are significantly tougher than that of past debates, the pool of candidates who’ll participate is expected to narrow some.

In total, 10 candidates have qualified, compared to the 12 who took part in October’s debate. Given the smaller field, it’ll likely be an opportunity for frontrunners Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders to more explicitly confront one another, while medium-tier candidates seek a breakout moment.

As of this week, the candidates who have qualified for the November debate have done so by hitting two requirements:

1) They’ve secured at least 165,000 individual donors, including 600 individual donors from 20 states.

2) They’ve reached 3 percent in the polls in four Democratic National Committee (DNC) approved surveys, or 5 percent in two DNC approved polls from the four earliest primary and caucus states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

The candidates who met the polling and donor thresholds are:

Candidates had until midnight on November 13 to make the cutoff on both fronts, and the stricter prerequisites were intended to cull the field. (For the fourth debate in October, for example, candidates were required to hit just 130,000 donors and 2 percent in four DNC approved polls.)

One candidate met just the donor requirement:

And other candidates didn’t reach either requirement:

A number of candidates, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Jay Inslee, have already dropped out after failing to make the stage in prior debates. If Rep. Tim Ryan and Beto O’Rourke’s departures were any indication, the new debate requirements likely prompted even more to do so.

The state of the race, briefly explained

The margin between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren got tighter: According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Joe Biden is in first place, and Elizabeth Warren has been close behind. (Warren briefly edged ahead with a slight lead, though Biden has since reclaimed it.) The polling spread as of mid-November shows Biden at 26 percent, Warren at 21 percent, and Sanders at 18 percent.

Pressure is growing on lower-polling candidates to drop out: Although a number of candidates have already dropped out, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the pressure is on for other 2020 candidates who are still in the race to consider calling it quits. As the DNC polling qualifications grow harder to meet, it will be tougher for many of the lower-tier candidates to participate in the televised debates, which are key for getting the platform they need to increase name recognition and expand their base of support.

The increasingly narrow debate requirements are seen as a factor that have pressed a slew of 2020 candidates to shutter their campaigns, while prompting criticism from candidates like Bullock and Gabbard who’ve failed to qualify for prior debates. The DNC has dismissed this pushback, arguing its use of polls and donor numbers means voters get to select who they want to continuing hearing from at the debates.

“As we get toward November, December, obviously we will continue to raise the bar of participation, because that’s what we’ve always done,” DNC Chair Tom Perez previously said in an interview with ABC’s This Week.

The primaries are rapidly approaching but it’s still early: With the Iowa caucus roughly three months away, the 2020 Democratic field has now begun to winnow ... to nearly 20 candidates, that is.

Voters are likely paying closer attention to the November and December debates given the fast-approaching primaries, which kick off in February. According to an October poll from Rasmussen Reports, 19 percent of Democratic voters say they’ve changed the candidate they support since the debates began and 28 percent are still undecided.

Although there’s still quite a bit of time before voters officially head to the polls, support behind the top candidates is beginning to solidify, and middle-tier candidates like Harris, Buttigieg, and Booker are facing a tighter window to shore up their backing. For candidates who don’t make the stage at all, including Castro, the debates could also seriously limit the exposure they need to advance.

This is not to say that candidates who fail to make the November stage are sure to drop out. Candidates like Messam and Sestak have not made any of the debates so far, and have chosen to continue their campaigns. However, entering the Iowa caucus without the momentum and name recognition debate appearances bring makes winning that contest a difficult proposition at best.

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