Andrew Yang qualifies for last Dem debate of 2019 as lone candidate of color

Only two days before the deadline to qualify for the last Democratic presidential primary debate of 2019, entrepreneur Andrew Yang secured his last qualifying poll to join six of his competitors in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, marking the only candidate of color who will appear on the stage so far.

Yang cleared the polling threshold after receiving 4% support among Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independent voters in a national Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday.

"We were confident we would make this debate," Yang told ABC News during his bus tour of Iowa Tuesday. "I'm even more confident we're going to make the next debate to keep the momentum going, because we've been investing a lot of time, energy and resources in the early states in particular."

The poll was released while Yang was sitting down with the Des Moines Register Editorial Board, and his campaign manager held up a sign to inform the presidential contender that he had clinched a podium, according to a tweet from the paper's political editor, Rachel Stassen-Berger.

Yang brings the total number of qualifying candidates who have crossed both the polling and grassroots donor hurdles up to seven for December's matchup, according to an ABC News' analysis. He will join: former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, billionaire Tom Steyer, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

When California Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her presidential campaign a week ago, despite qualifying for the upcoming debate, the lineup was set to include only white candidates.

"I'm very proud of being the first Asian American man to run for president as a Democrat, and I'm proud to be the lone person of color on the debate stage next week," Yang told reporters in Iowa Tuesday, also acknowledging that if Harris was still in the race, she would have joined him on stage.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who is of Southeast Asian, Polynesian, and Caucasian descent, is the only other candidate who could potentially reach the polling threshold before Thursday's deadline. Gabbard only needs one more qualifying poll, according to an ABC News analysis.

But Gabbard announced late Monday night that she would refuse to participate in the debate "regardless of whether or not" she qualifies.

"I instead choose to spend that precious time directly meeting with and hearing from the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina," she tweeted.

Throughout 2019, the party has imposed more stringent qualifying rules as the primary season deepened, which has at times put the committee at odds with the White House hopefuls for raising the bar with each matchup and making it more difficult for lower-tier candidates to qualify.

Steyer, who will appear on the stage, most recently called on the Democratic National Committee to change the qualifying rules for the January debate to "ensure future debates include a wider field of candidates" in a statement Wednesday.

DNC Chair Tom Perez defended the DNC's criteria in an interview with ABC News' Whit Johnson earlier this month, saying, "Nobody who's been under 4% at this point in the cycle, no one who's been under 4% historically has ever been able to win the primary. And so that's why we set the bar at 4%."

After qualifying, Yang also defended the DNC's qualifying criteria.

"It's a really tough spot for the DNC because the DNC set up fairly objective criteria a while ago," he said. "I think the DNC had a nearly impossible job. I think they fulfilled the balance to the best of their ability."

The sixth Democratic primary debate will be held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and POLITICO. NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, POLITICO chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, NewsHour senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz and NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor will moderate the debate.

Similar to previous debates, candidates have to meet two thresholds -- a grassroots fundraising threshold and polling threshold -- to secure a spot on stage in Los Angeles.

Candidates must have at least 200,000 unique donors, and a minimum of 800 individual donors per state in at least 20 states to reach the fundraising threshold.

For the polling threshold, candidates can either score at least 4% support in four national polls or polls out of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina, or reach 6% support in two early state polls. The polls must be conducted by an organization on a list of approved sponsors from the DNC.

The polls must be released between Oct. 16 and 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 12 in order to count. Candidates also have until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 12 to hit the donor threshold, according to the DNC.

Editor's Note: The headline in this story has changed to reflect that Andrew Yang is the lone candidate of color to have qualified so far for the next Democratic debate and not the first. Sen. Kamala Harris had initially qualified but has since suspended her campaign.
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