The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that its upcoming presidential primary debate will be moderated by an an all-female panel amid concerns over the event’s neutrality and sinking viewership.
The debate, which is being sponsored by The Washington Post and MSNBC in Georgia on Nov. 20, will be moderated by NBC News’s Andrea Mitchel and Kristen Welker, The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker, and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
As the Post reported when announcing the lineup, the November debate will mark the second time in history that an all-female panel has moderated such an event. It is unclear, however, if the gender of the moderators will be enough to allay doubts and concerns about the neutrality of the DNC and the NBC networks.
Even prior to the moderator lineup, progressive activists had questioned if it is improper for MSNBC to sponsor the event given that executives of its parent corporation, Comcast Corp., have donated heavily to candidates likely to be on the debate stage. In particular, Comcast executives have overwhelmingly showered two of the more moderate Democrats running, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with campaign donations. Executives have donated more than $77,000 to Buttigieg and nearly $75,000 to Biden since the start of the 2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
No such donations were made to the presidential campaigns of Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) or Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who poll higher than Buttigieg nationally and outpace Biden in several of the early primary states.
Apart from the potential bias on the part of MSNBC and Comcast, progressive activists and even lower-tiered presidential candidates have questioned the DNC qualifications standards for the debate. Since the DNC first announced it would be limiting participation in the debates, the organization has consistently tightened requirements in hopes of winnowing the field. The tactic, though, has only led to accusations that the DNC is “penalizing” lesser known candidates to the benefit of those that are more established, like Biden.
For the upcoming debate, the DNC is requiring candidates reach at least three percent in four state or national polls or five percent in two state polls. For those unable to meet that goal in the 19-person field, candidates can also qualify by receiving 165,000 “unique donations,” from at least 600 “unique donors” in 20 states.
To date, only eight candidate have met these qualification standards for the November debate.
Complicating matters for the DNC is that viewership for its last four presidential primary debates has fallen off significantly. October’s debate, which was hosted by CNN in Ohio, only drew an estimated 8.3 million views, much lower than the 9.7 million that tuned in for the second primary debate in July.