Is the DNC Using Arbitrary Criteria to Exclude Mike Gravel From Debates?

More than 700 people have filed to run for president in 2020. With a number that enormous, the ever-expanding candidate pool obviously has to be cut down by the time that they are ready to take on the debate stage.

Mike Gravel, an 89-year-old former senator from Alaska turned marijuana executive, will be missing from the upcoming CNN debate lineup, despite claiming that he has reached the proper criteria set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

According to the rules set by the DNC, the candidates must fulfill one of two criteria: acquire 65,000 campaign donors (with at least 200 donors in 20 different states) or poll above 1 percent in three national polls recognized as legitimate by the DNC.

Gravel, who completed a brief stint as a Democratic candidate back in 2008, reported that his campaign had received contributions from more than 65,000 donors, thus meeting the DNC’s minimum threshold.

“I’m grateful to every one of the 65,000 who donated to our campaign, and the thousands more that have followed and supported us,” Gravel said in a statement. “I will do all I can to ensure their voices not be silenced in this primary.”

However, with more than 20 candidates currently qualified, the DNC will prioritize candidates who have met both requirements in both donors and polling, as opposed to just one. Yet, it appears that some candidates have qualified on polling data alone, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

Since returning to the political sphere for the 2020 election, Gravel’s campaign has been anything but ordinary. In fact, his campaign is being managed entirely by two college students named Henry Williams and David Oks, who heard about Gravel’s original 2008 campaign on an episode of the leftist podcast “Chapo Trap House.” While the goal of Gravel’s campaign has never been to win, he and his team are hoping to use his platform to push the Democratic Party further left, primarily on an antiwar message.

Since the news broke that Gravel had been bumped from the second round of debates scheduled for July 30 and 31, some are speculating that the DNC’s criteria may not be the same standard for everyone.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Gravel had been left out of several surveys, therefore not even getting the chance to meet the DNC’s minimum polling threshold for entering the debates. Gravel wasn’t the only one to not make the cut, either — Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak failed to meet either of the minimum requirements, while Gravel met one.

Following the departure of California Rep. Eric Swalwell from the race, one new face will appear on CNN’s debate stage next week. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will take Swalwell’s spot by meeting the DNC’s polling criteria, even though he failed to secure the donor minimum.

“The [Gravel] campaign has retained counsel and is currently in talks with the DNC over the validity of the polling method of qualification, given that well over half of DNC’s approved polls methodically and consistently excluded [Senator] Gravel despite the campaign’s documented, repeated outreach to both pollsters and the DNC for inclusion,” Gravel’s campaign manager David Oks said in a statement.

Some have taken to Twitter to point out other inconsistencies between the treatment of Gravel and other candidates that ultimately come down to which piece of criteria the DNC has prioritized more. For example, Bill de Blasio, who has around 6,700 unique donors in contrast to Gravel’s more than 65,000, will appear on the debate stage for round two, despite only meeting the bare minimum for polling.

Gravel’s campaign took to Twitter to discuss their frustration with de Blasio in particular, claiming that “if one of them [de Blasio or Sen. Michael Bennett] had opted out, Mike would be going to Detroit. It annoys us deeply that so many narcissists decided this was their time, so Mike couldn’t go.”

This isn’t the first time that Gravel’s campaign has called for candidates to drop out, either. Following an Axios report claiming that former Maryland Rep. John Delaney’s staffers were encouraging him to drop out of the race, Gravel challenged Delaney on Twitter to follow through, prompting the hashtag #DropOutDelaney to trend worldwide.

Despite not being included in the CNN debates, Gravel’s campaign has a plan to keep delivering their message. While Gravel’s campaign did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment, in a thread calling out the DNC for “arbitrarily favoring polls,” the team explained that following the July debates, they plan on holding an “alternate, unsanctioned round table of major candidates not included in the presidential debates.”

They went on to explain that because a lot of candidates will be cut for the following round of debates in September, many of them will be willing to join.

While some have brushed off Gravel’s campaign as an unserious effort, many have latched onto the idea of opening debates to everyone without a filter. In fact, there is currently a Change.org petition to open the debates to all 25 candidates, claiming that “exclusionary debates are an anathema to democracy.”