At Least 12 Democratic Candidates to Debate on a Single Stage in Ohio, Party Says

The Democratic field is shrinking. But the number of candidates on the debate stage is about to grow.

At least 12 presidential hopefuls are expected to appear together on a single night at next month’s televised debate in Ohio, Democratic officials said on Friday, contrary to recent speculation that the event might be spread across two days to accommodate the large lineup.

Squeezing a dozen voluble politicians onto one stage could prove unwieldy, with plenty of opportunities for cross talk as lower-polling candidates hunt for what may be their last chance at a national breakout moment. Moderators from CNN and The New York Times, the debate’s co-sponsors, will be tasked with keeping order.

The Ohio debate, on Oct. 15, is set to include the 10 candidates who appeared at this month’s debate in Houston, which was broadcast by ABC. In addition to that group, the billionaire former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii are scheduled to take the stage.

The format is meant to guarantee that viewers can see the party’s top contenders face off against one another. Viewership rose for the debate held in Houston, the third of the campaign cycle and the first to feature two leading candidates, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, on the same stage.

A pair of CNN anchors, Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper, will share moderating duties with The Times’s national editor, Marc Lacey, at the debate, which will be held on the campus of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

No Democratic debate this year has allowed for more than 10 candidates onstage at once. But party officials faced a unique situation for next month’s matchup.

Several candidates, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, have ended their bids because of a lack of support. Yet Mr. Steyer, who has not yet appeared at a televised debate, and Ms. Gabbard recently passed the threshold to qualify for a spot onstage.

Had Democratic officials opted for two nights, with six candidates randomly chosen for each round, voters may have been deprived of seeing the party’s leading candidates debate one another directly. Another option — to split the candidates by polling performance — was used in 2016 for several Republican debates. But that arrangement led to criticism that the so-called “undercard” candidates were being unfairly stigmatized.

Choreographing a primary debate can be a tricky business. In a note to campaigns on Friday, the Democratic National Committee left open the possibility of a format change after Oct. 1, the final day for candidates to meet the debate qualification criteria.

“Pending a final decision after the certification deadline, it is the intention of the D.N.C. and our media partners to hold the October debate over one night on Tuesday, Oct. 15,” party officials wrote.

Viewers’ interest in the 2020 race remains high. Ratings for this month’s Houston debate surpassed 14 million viewers.

The second night of the first debate, held in Miami and hosted by NBC and Telemundo in June, drew 18.1 million viewers, breaking the record for the biggest television audience for a Democratic primary matchup.

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