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DNC chair: 2 stages, 16 spots for first 2 Democratic debates

Posted at 8:42 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 20:42:11-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic Party's first two presidential debates will have two stages for a total of up to 16 participants.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez disclosed the new details Wednesday night at a party fundraiser in Washington ahead of the DNC's winter meeting.

"Two stages, eight and eight," Perez said, repeating his promise for a fair process.

It was the first time the chairman had confirmed how many slots would be available for the growing 2020 field that already includes a gaggle of senators and some House members and could soon comprise governors and heavyweights like former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The first two debates are slated for June and July. They'll be the first two of six debates in 2019, with at least six more to follow in 2020.

Perez reaffirmed Wednesday that he'd "draw lots" to assign candidates to the two stages rather than separate perceived leaders from a second tier as Republicans did in their large primary field during their 2016 nominating fight. There have been conversations with television networks about staging the debates over two consecutive nights, though that's yet to be decided.

The chairman told The Associated Press earlier Wednesday that he wants to announce the qualification threshold for the first two debates and the media partners by week's end.

Perez said the qualifications would include "grassroots fundraising" in addition to polling.

Relying on polling alone would be particularly problematic for such a large field, as so many candidates are likely to be in the single digits with support at or just above any poll's margin of error. So the idea from party leaders is to set some kind of threshold — perhaps allowing a candidate to qualify based on a certain number of small donors or some combination of a total amount raised and the average amount of individual contributions.

There is a key question of what the qualifications would mean for a candidate who might have a healthy fundraising base based on large donors or on the candidate's personal wealth.

Perez is not expected to name the locations for the first debates until after he's chosen where the party will hold its 2020 nominating convention. The finalists are Milwaukee, Miami and Houston, Perez said.

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Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .