By David Skolnick
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who won’t qualify for next month’s Democratic presidential debate, sharply criticized the selection process.
“It’s horse[bleep],” he said. “It’s not a fair process. We’re weeding people out in August. Bill Clinton didn’t get into the  campaign until October 1991. They’re trying to shut out the more moderate voices of the party. To start eliminating people now isn’t fair.”
But Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said he has no plans now to end his presidential bid.
To qualify for the third presidential debate in Houston in September, candidates need at least 130,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 400 different donors from at least 20 states, and at least 2 percent support in four qualifying polls from June 28 to Aug. 28.
Ryan reported he had about 13,000 donors as of June 30. That’s since grown, he said without giving specifics. But it’s not close to the 130,000 needed. Also, he hasn’t polled at 2 percent in any qualifying poll since June 28.
Billionaire Tom Steyer, who announced his candidacy July 9, has spent millions of dollars on campaign ads on television and social media, particularly Facebook, to get the 130,000 donors and is one poll away from qualifying for next month’s debate.
When asked about Steyer, Ryan said, “Why create a system where a billionaire can buy his way onto the debate stage? The 130,000 number is not reflective of the Democratic electorate.”
The debate is scheduled for Sept. 12 with Sept. 13 as an additional date if more than 10 candidates qualify. To date, nine qualify. Like Steyer, Julian Castro, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, needs just one more poll to qualify.
The threshold to qualify for the first two debates – June 26 and 27, and July 30 and 31 – were either 1 percent in three qualifying polls or 65,000 unique donors with preference given to those who had both. Ryan qualified both times through polls, getting an advantage over others because he received 2 percent in a University of New Hampshire poll of that state’s Democrats.
Despite being excluded from the September debate and almost certainly the October debate as it has similar requirements – though the Aug. 28 deadline will be extended to an unspecified date – Ryan said he’s continuing to campaign.
He went Saturday to New Hampshire, the first state with a presidential primary, and is campaigning there today and possibly Monday.
“Other candidates are getting out and stumbling while we’ve been getting a ton of media,” Ryan said. “We’re going to keep going. We’re continuing to build this out. I’m running a start-up operation. I’m in it to win it.”
Ryan said he has “the financial resources to continue. We’re still raising money, and people want to do events for us.”
Ryan raised $889,398.86 between April and June, the least amount of money for any of the Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage.
He was second to last in money raised from donors because ex-U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland received $284,476 from individual contributions and loaned $7.75 million to his campaign in the second quarter.
As for why he’s not registering in the polls, Ryan said, “It’s a name ID thing. People aren’t deciding yet and defaulting” to the frontrunners. “There’s a lot of room to grow. People don’t decide until the end.”
He added: “I’m the kind of candidate who can catch fire and all of a sudden you get name ID. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t.”
Ryan said he’s getting more notice from people as he travels.
“It’s changed significantly in the past few weeks,” he said.
But Ryan hasn’t seen any improvement in the polls. Actually, he’s polling worse now than he was a few months ago.
Ryan warned Democrats not to select a left-wing nominee – such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – as the nominee.
“We’ll be so far left that we’ll be in trouble getting to the center in the general” election, he said. “Nobody’s talking about the economic message [but me]. I’ve said it since I ran against Nancy Pelosi [for Democratic leader in 2016]. The country, I think, is on a sugar high with the economy. It’s being held together with bubble gum and string. We’re seeing that now.”
Ryan is also seeking re-election next year to his 10th two-year term in Congress. He has missed 28.8 percent of the House’s votes this year, the sixth most among members, according to data compiled by ProPublica.
Ryan has said he’s missed some votes because his presidential campaign is important and even with the absences he’s been successful in bringing money back to his district.
Two Republicans – Duane Hennen of Warren and Lou Lyras of Campbell – say they plan to run for Ryan’s House seat next year.