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Everything you need to know about the next Democratic debate

December marks the sixth debate of the race.

A Democratic debate party at The Abbey on October 15, 2019, in West Hollywood, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Seven candidates have qualified for the December Democratic debate, the sixth of the 2020 presidential contest, in which former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg remain the frontrunners.

Hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, the debate will take place at 8 pm ET on Thursday, December 19, at the Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and will be aired on PBS. (It will also be streamed on PBS and Politico’s websites.) Whether the debate would happen was in doubt for several days after Democratic candidates vowed to drop out in solidarity with workers who had threatened to picket the event, amid a labor dispute with the university. That dispute has since reached a tentative resolution.

The Democratic National Committee again raised the standards to qualify for Thursday’s debate stage. Candidates must have achieved at least 4 percent support in at least four polls approved by the Democratic National Convention or 6 percent support in two single-state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada that were conducted between October 16 and December 12 at 11:59 pm ET. They must have also certified that they received donations from at least 200,000 unique donors, including at least 800 per state in 20 states, US territories, or Washington, DC.

It will be a smaller field than November’s debate, when 10 candidates made the cut, but the overall dynamics for December will be similar to last month: Going into the debate, Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg — who is riding a recent surge in the polls — are perceived as the frontrunners.

The final debate lineup is now set. The candidates are:

The other 9 candidates in the field failed to qualify:

The Democratic field had begun to narrow, then grew again

Yang, who will be the only person of color on the stage, just barely made the cut for the debate, qualifying in the final week before the December 12 deadline. It’s one of the last opportunities for the candidates to appeal to a national audience before early voting begins in February.

The Democratic field has thinned out recently, with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak exiting the race over the past month. Harris had qualified for the December debate, but dropped out amid campaign turmoil and financial struggles.

Castro — who dropped his threat to exit the race after he narrowly hit an $800,000 fundraising goal at the end of October — didn’t make the November debate stage, but he insists he is not pulling the plug on his campaign just yet.

There were a couple of late entries to the contest: Patrick announced his candidacy on November 14 and Bloomberg, despite downplaying his White House aspirations earlier this year, announced a presidential bid as well.

But they haven’t proved able to catch up so far, despite flushing their campaigns with cash. Bloomberg, a billionaire, has self-financed his campaign and Patrick is welcoming PAC money, yet they both are polling in the low single digits.