MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the final days of August, months before any voters head to the polls, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is in a hurry — and for good reason.
The presidential hopeful pitched her plan Tuesday to expand mental health services in a speech to 11 people at a community center. Later that day, she hopped on CNN to talk about Joe Biden. Her ads are on television in Iowa and New Hampshire, thanks to a more than $1 million buy in those states.
For more than half of 22 Democrats running for president, next Wednesday might as well be Election Day. While front-runners such as Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have secured their spots in next month’s debate, much of the rest of the field is in an all-out sprint to meet the party’s requirements to get on the stage in Houston in September.
Before Aug. 28, Democratic candidates must show they have at least 130,000 individual donors and register at least 2 percent in four national or early state polls. As Gillibrand prepared for her Manchester event, former Housing secretary Julian Castro announced he would be the 10th candidate to qualify, thanks to a new national poll from CNN.
Gillibrand says she is close to the magic number.
“The hard reality is that you need money to continue on with these campaigns,” said Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University. “And these DNC rules put a deadline on when you need that money. The winnowing process will now begin.”
For candidates on the cusp, that means they’re running campaigns like it’s days before the Iowa caucuses in January, or the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary in February — not the doldrums of the final days of summer.
Former Maryland representative John Delaney was in New Hampshire Sunday and will return Thursday for the weekend.
Also that day, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio will arrive in New Hampshire. Until recently, Ryan had mostly stayed in his home state after the Dayton shootings. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Montana Governor Steve Bullock will appear at CNN town hall meetings this weekend.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee had been expected in New Hampshire on Thursday, but he dropped out of the race on Wednesday evening.
Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who hasn’t received 1 percent in a single qualifying poll since he entered the race in April, will be in New Hampshire two Sundays in a row. And author Marianne Williamson will return to the state this weekend after canceling her previous trip to do an extended interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper.
For all of these lower-tier candidates, this could be their last trip to New Hampshire as a 2020 presidential candidate, because those who don’t qualify for the third debate will likely soon face calls from other Democrats to drop out of the race.
To be sure, some Democrats say the impact of the debates has been overblown.
“I am not sure it is that big of a deal not to be on the stage quite frankly,” said Judy Reardon, a supporter of Gillibrand and a longtime New Hampshire activist. “But of course you’d rather be on it.”
The two candidates on the verge of qualifying for the debates are not on the campaign trail this week at all. One is billionaire Tom Steyer, who needs one more qualifying poll to make the stage; he’s serving jury duty while his heavy rotation of television ads continues. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who needs two more polls showing her with 2 percent to make the stage, is on national guard duty in Indonesia.
But even though the 2020 Democratic primary has brought new rules to the race, many candidates are relying on more traditional politicking in hopes of continuing their campaigns.
In New Hampshire, Democrats are schmoozing with local officials, chatting up local press, and making their best pitches in the marketplace of ideas in a place where discerning voters can lift a candidate out of obscurity to national prominence. And, for the right candidate at the right time, one resonating moment can transform a campaign, and all of a sudden they are attracting a rally of thousands of people inside a high school gym. This is how it worked for Jimmy Carter, Howard Dean, John McCain, and others.
“So many of these candidates are doing the right things by using the old rules, and in just a matter of days they are going to be all wiped out anyway,” said Arnie Arnesen, a former Democratic nominee for New Hampshire governor and a longtime activist. “There are just too many candidates and these DNC rules are winnowing the field.”
None of this is a secret to Gillibrand, who in the last week has held nothing back in her hopes to qualify for the debate by next week. She is making her case on Facebook, where it reportedly costs candidates around $80 to get a $1 contribution. And she’s sweetening the deal by offering a T-shirt for every donation.
Gillibrand told reporters Tuesday that she is close to the 130,000 donors, but she has just one poll showing her with 2 percent support. And the polls that the DNC counts are coming out only once every two or three days.
The DNC will announce next week which candidates will make the cut.
“I’m hoping your viewers will go to kirstengillibrand.com and send a dollar,” Gillibrand said while being filmed by a New Hampshire television news station. “So I can keep raising up issues like this, and I’m hoping I will be rewarded in New Hampshire when there’s the next poll out in New Hampshire.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of polls showing Kirsten Gillibrand with 2 percent of support. She has one such poll.