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Here’s everything you need to know about the September debate

The stage is about to get a lot less crowded.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

The stage of the next Democratic debate in September is going to be a lot less crowded.

The party’s third presidential debate, hosted by ABC News and Univision, will be held September 12 (and potentially an additional night on September 13) in Houston, Texas. The venue for the debate is Texas Southern University, a historically black university.

“As the nation’s most diverse city, Houston is the perfect place for the Democratic Party’s third debate. Leaders like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have been key to making Houston the world class city it is today,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said.

Unlike June and July’s debates, which had more lenient requirements that gave most candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves to America, the third debate has significantly stricter qualifications rules. The DNC is raising the bar ⁠— effectively cutting out half or more of the candidates.

Candidates must meet both a polling and donor threshold: At least 2 percent in four national DNC-approved polls and at least 130,000 unique donors, coming from at least 400 unique donors in 20 or more states. The deadline to reach the qualifications for the September debate is August 28. (For anyone closely following along at home, those are double the 1 percent polling threshold and a 65,000 donor minimum from the past two rounds, when candidates only had to clear one of the two bars.)

As of the end of July, only seven candidates have announced that they meet all the requirements:

Two candidates have met just the donor requirement:

One candidate has met just the polling requirement:

Meanwhile, 15 candidates have yet to reach either requirement:

Andrew Yang had announced he had reached his fourth 2 percent poll earlier this week, but the DNC revoked his qualification for having two national NBC polls (NBC/Wall Street Journal and NBC/SurveyMonkey). Yang is still expected to pick up his fourth poll in the next few weeks and secure a spot in the September debate.

Candidates that don’t make the third debate, however, could still save up hope that they’ll make the October stage. The fourth round has the same requirements as the September debates, but candidates will have more time to qualify. The campaigns for Moulton, Bennet, and Bullock have all told the Washington Post that they will not be discouraged by not qualifying for debates.

The July debates were a last-ditch effort for lower-tier candidates to have their breakthrough moment and gain momentum around their campaign. But the window is closing for those who haven’t met either the polling or donor threshold to make it into the third debate. And as Vox’s Andrew Prokop had noted before the second debate, prospects don’t look bright for those who don’t advance to the next stage:

It seems likely, then, that the great winnowing of the Democratic field is about to begin. If candidates fail to make the debate stage, they will likely suffer further in polls and in fundraising. Many will likely exit the race — one candidate who’d gained no traction, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, already has.

The Iowa caucuses are still six months away, but this week may really be the last chance many Democratic candidates have to make their case to a national audience on the debate stage. The next time the party does this, the guest list will be smaller.

Without so many people on the stage, expect a whole new ball game: more talk time, more candidate-to-candidate interactions, and more policy.

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