Urgent Dems face debate stage deadline

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

After four months, the race for the 2020 Democratic nod is almost in full bloom as the battle to face off against President Trump next year takes shape.

The party has a clear current front-runner. Democrats also have a swarm of other candidates all trying to gain in polls and lock in enough individual donors to make it to a debate stage in Miami on June 26 or 27 under Democratic National Committee rules.

For those scraping the bottom of the polling and donor barrels, the hourglass is running low. Candidates now have a month until June 12 to qualify through polling prerequisites for invitations to the first debate.

According to FiveThirtyEight, 18 candidates have qualified for the debates while others sit on the bubble because they recently entered the race (examples, Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts) or are on the verge of entering (Montana Gov. Steve Bullock this week and perhaps New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio), meaning that someone will likely be forced off the stage because the DNC capped the number of debate participants at 20. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has met the polling threshold but not the donor metrics, aired her grievances about what she views as the arbitrary donor rules created by the DNC (CNN).

In a race where candidates can ill-afford a major setback, missing the debate stage would qualify as one. In other words, the race is on.

As for the front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden is showing off a more disciplined version of himself in his third presidential bid, according to Amie Parnes.

At an event in Las Vegas last week, Biden declined to respond in his typical fashion when a supporter yelled that he could “hug and kiss me anytime!” Instead, he laughed before pivoting back to his stump speech, showing off a more restrained candidate his supporters believe could go a long way toward securing the party’s nomination next year.

Polling is bearing this out. According to a new South Carolina poll, Biden leads with 46 percent, tripling the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his closest competitor.

The Associated Press: White House hopefuls swarm rival Sen. Kamala Harris’s home turf of California.

Politico: “Why not me?” Big-city mayors watch with envy as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg surges.

The Associated Press: Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from Texas, plans “reintroduction” as 2020 buzz fizzles.

While Biden holds firm atop the field, those trailing him are trying to score points on policy, and some are trying to do in a timely fashion.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made one of the first trips by a presidential candidate to Puerto Rico, which has been in the news lately amid the fight for disaster aid and what Democrats see as Trump’s dismissal of the territory and its recovery from devastating hurricanes.

Some candidates are taking aim at Biden, particularly over combating climate change. After an adviser for Biden described a pending policy proposal as a push to seek a “middle ground,” progressives in the race weighed in. Sanders and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) both criticized the former vice president, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a leading progressive voice in Congress, said a “middle ground” plan is a “dealbreaker” (The New York Times).

Jonathan Allen: As Biden predicts a shorter race, rivals dig in for long fight.

Another area where Democrats have tried to carve out space is the economy, which Trump is sure to claim as his own given the 3.6 percent unemployment rate and rising wages. However, as Max Greenwood reports, Democrats have avoided giving Trump credit for a strong economy. Instead, they salute former President Obama and the policies he shepherded after the Great Recession.

The presidential race is expected to get more crowded this week as Bullock, the two-term Montana governor, takes the plunge, bringing the number of Democrats in the race to 23.

Bullock, who won reelection by four points despite Trump carrying the state by nearly 21 points, teased an announcement on Saturday, before releasing a second video on Sunday showing his children creating a pros and cons list for a 2020 campaign.

The Hill: Top Dem money man puts muscle behind Latino mobilization.

The New York Times: Iowa’s likely outcome for 2020 contenders: A field of broken dreams.

The Associated Press: Wisconsin Republican Party rebuilds for 2020.

On the GOP side of presidential politics, Trump has some campaign-related stops on deck this week, with a stop in Louisiana on Tuesday and a trip to New York on Thursday. Trump is expected to dine in New Orleans with the winner of a fundraising raffle during his trip to Louisiana, which will double as an official event to discuss jobs, energy and infrastructure (The Advocate).

Trump will fly to New York City on Thursday to headline a fundraiser for his reelection campaign. Beyond annual remarks at the United Nations, the president has largely bypassed his home town since his inauguration (The New York Times).

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