(WASHINGTON) — A fundraising email on behalf of 2020 candidate John Delaney crossed a harried line on Monday when the campaign issued a plea to supporters to donate to the candidate or risk his place in the upcoming debate, despite the candidate’s already solid place on the stage.
Asked to clarify, the campaign blamed the dramatized request to supporters on their mail service vendor, who they said sent the email without approval. But the blast raised questions over whether the campaign went a step too far in utilizing the complex Democratic National Committee rules to push supporters to donate.
The campaign does not plan to issue a correction to supporters, a Delaney spokesperson told ABC News.
In the email, the campaign writes that Delaney made them “proud” at the last debate, but adds that “now he’s at risk of not qualifying for the second!”
“We need to secure as many donations as possible in the next 48 hours,” the fundraising email continued, asking supporters to pitch in “even $1.”
Based on an ABC News analysis, Delaney, who also qualified for the June debate, will qualify comfortably for the July debate through the polling threshold.
Asked for an explanation on the “risk” described in the email, a spokesperson for the campaign described the content as overblown, saying the language could’ve been tighter.
“If we had the opportunity to resend that email, we would be much clearer about it,” Michael Hopkins, national press secretary for Delaney, told ABC News.
Hopkins added that the campaign “fully expects” Delaney to qualify for the debate.
“We fully expect to qualify based on everything we’re seeing. We will qualify and make the second debate,” Hopkins said.
He described the email as a mistake because of “language in the fundraising email that hadn’t been approved” and said they’d never before run into the issue of an email going out on behalf of the candidate without approval.
Nevertheless, Hopkins said the campaign decided not to issue a correction because “there’s a world where we could not make the stage.”
He cited unlikely examples, including if the long shot candidate Mike Gravel, a former senator from Alaska with a Twitter account run by two millennials, were to hit the polling threshold in the next 48 hours. Gravel has netted enough grassroots donors to qualify.
“Let me be clear, we do not mislead supporters, we have no intention on misleading supporters,” Hopkins said.
The company the campaign uses for its email services according to Federal Election Commission filings, Network Solutions, could not be reached for comment.
In order to qualify for the debates at the end of July, candidates must earn at least 1% support in three separate national or early-state polls conducted from Jan. 1 to two weeks before the given debate, or receive donations from at least 65,000 people across 20 different states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state.
Delaney was able to qualify for the June debate, which followed the same rules, last month.
And while the DNC capped the number of Democrats who can participate in the debate at 20, it’s unlikely that Delaney would be bumped from the stage by another candidate.
There are at least five candidates who have lower polling averages than the former congressman, which is what the DNC would use to conduct a tie-breaker if more than 20 candidates met the thresholds for the debate.
Though the email from Delaney’s campaign went a step farther than other candidates’ pleas for support also reviewed by ABC News, he is not the only candidate to lean on the debate stage thresholds as a means for fundraising.
Generally, however, candidates urge supporters to donate in order to help them meet a goal they have yet to meet — like urging supporters to donate so they can cross the more challenging threshold of netting 65,000 individual donors. As some candidates have noted, if they can hit both the polling threshold and the donor threshold, they all but secure a spot.
Ahead of the last debate in June, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York asked voters to make a donation so she could “guarantee” that she would be on the stage, though she had already qualified through polling.
“I still need to guarantee my spot by hitting the 65,000-donor goal — will you make a donation of any amount right now to become one of the donors I need to get there?” Gillibrand wrote in an email to supporters.
Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, one of the last 2020 candidates to join the race and who just recently gained the polling traction to qualify for the July debate, made the same plea as Gillibrand — and added a splash of urgency because of a fraught history with the DNC.
Though they’ve “officially qualified” through polling, the campaign said in the email, they urged supporters to donate because “the DNC could still limit how many candidates are on stage and block us again.”
Bullock was barred from the first debate in June because of a DNC rule change, sparking a demand from his campaign and some Montana constituents to let the governor, the only candidate who won in a state then-candidate Donald Trump carried, to be represented in the conversation.
Most candidates who are already expected to qualify for the July debates, as Delaney has, have taken to instead using their fundraising emails to ask for voters to help them get on to the stage for the September debate, which will require candidates to net nearly double the donor support.
The third debate, which will be hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision, calls for 130,000 unique donors over the course of the election cycle, with a minimum of 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
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