Window to qualify for next debate closing quickly on Dems

WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling Democratic presidential candidates braced for bad news today with the window to qualify for the next debate set to close at midnight, a near impossible deadline for many to make that could doom their campaigns.

Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and self-help guru Marianne Williamson were among those on the outside looking in.

In order to appear on stage in Houston next month, they have to hit 2 percent in at least four approved public opinion polls while securing 130,000 unique donors by the deadline. Two new polls released today affirmed they were all below the threshold.

With few other developments expected during the day, it was likely to stay that way.

"Our rules have ended up less inclusive ... than even the Republicans," Bullock said on MSNBC, referring to the thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee. "It is what it is."

In a still-crowded Democratic field, not qualifying for the debate would severely cripple the prospects of several candidacies, though many have vowed to forge on in hopes of reaching the requirements in time for the next debate in October, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th.

Steyer, a late entry to the race, is the closest to qualifying.

He and Gillibrand both poured millions of dollars into Facebook and TV ads to boost their standing. While Steyer met the donor threshold, he was still one poll shy. Gillibrand was three polls away and had yet to lock in enough donors.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was two polls away from qualifying and Williamson was three polls away. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also fell far short.

In a memo, Bennet's campaign lamented rules that have "created a reality show with unending coverage on process rather than substance."