Candidates on the debate stage were markedly rowdier on Tuesday — and they weren’t the only ones. Throughout the night, the audience seemingly was, too.
In moment after moment, including when Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the overwhelming support he receives from billionaires, the audience responded effusively with boos. Notably, in several instances, the reaction seemed to favor Bloomberg, who was once again confronted by multiple candidates over issues including “stop and frisk” and alleged sexist comments.
The apparent support for Bloomberg from the crowd raised questions about whether there was an outsized presence of his supporters in the audience, given the extensive cheers he seemed to garner at the event compared to the Nevada debate. Speculation on Twitter was only amplified by a local news article that went viral, which claimed tickets started at a whopping $1,750 to $3,200 for donors looking to sponsor a package of events, including the debate. An update was later published to indicate that these ticket options were removed from the Charleston County Democrats’ website.
Bloomberg’s campaign has made clear that it did not pay any supporters to participate in the audience, and a spokesperson told Vox that each candidate was given an equal number of tickets for the event by the Democratic National Committee. Before the debate, Bloomberg sent a list of guests he invited, which ranged from former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake to Reverend Sharon Risher, a gun violence survivor.
According to the Charleston County Democratic Party, tickets for the debate were extremely limited and allocated by organizers of the debate, including the DNC. During past debates, such as the one that took place in Miami, Florida, last year, donors were able to purchase sponsorships for access to the debate night and related receptions, and many wondered whether a similar arrangement may have been what gave the audience a pro-Bloomberg vibe. The South Carolina Democratic Party, which had access to some of the tickets for the evening, said explicitly that it did not sell individual tickets.
Here’s what we know about how tickets were distributed for Tuesday’s South Carolina debate.
What we know about how tickets were allocated
- According to a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, all seven candidates were allocated an equal number of tickets for the debate by the Democratic National Committee.
- A Bloomberg campaign official told NBC News’s Josh Lederman that the campaign did not pay audience members to go to the debate.
Per @JoshNBCNews: A Bloomberg campaign official says the campaign did *not* pay people to attend the debate and cheer for Bloomberg.— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) February 26, 2020
- Access to tickets was limited for individuals who were not affiliated with the campaigns or the organizers of the debate, according to the Charleston County Democratic Party: “Tickets are extremely limited. The campaigns of participating candidates will have a set number of free tickets to distribute to their supporters,” the group stated. “Ticket allocations will be determined by the national party and other host organizations.”
- According to DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa, the tickets were divided between the DNC, campaigns, and the South Carolina Democratic Party, along with debate’s hosts: the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, CBS, and Twitter.
Let me give you the facts: The tickets were divided up between the DNC, campaigns (with equal allocation), SC Dem Party, CBCI, CBS and Twitter. We invited local and community leaders, and DNC supporters. This is the most diverse audience. https://t.co/KB1qRWePa6— Xochitl Hinojosa (@XochitlHinojosa) February 26, 2020
- The South Carolina Democratic Party says it did not sell tickets to the Democratic debate and allocated the 400 tickets it received to “hundreds of activists, county party leaders, community leaders, State Representatives, State Senators, candidates, & elected officials from every level of government in SC at no cost.”
Out of the nearly 400 tickets that we were able to allocate for this evenings debate, we welcomed hundreds of activists, county party leaders, community leaders, State Representatives, State Senators, candidates, & elected officials from every level of government in SC at no cost— SC Democratic Party (@scdp) February 26, 2020
- In the case of at least one past debate, attendees have been able to pay thousands of dollars to sponsor the debate and obtain tickets. As indicated by a story from WCSC, a CBS affiliate based in Charleston, such options were once listed on the Charleston County Democratic Party website, though they’ve since been taken down. “The Gaillard is only so big and this is something that is just a hot ticket from across the country. These kind of events really are set up for sponsors and things like that,” Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Condon previously told the network.
Outstanding questions we still have
- The DNC has not responded to a request for comment about how many tickets are doled out to sponsors who pay to attend.
- We don’t yet know if there were a disproportionate number of Bloomberg supporters in the audience compared to supporters of other candidates.