Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will appear in the first Democratic debate later this month in Miami, but he won’t share the stage with the best-known candidates in the 2020 race.

With 20 candidates qualifying, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) divided the first debate into two nights, with half the candidates appearing each night. A random drawing determined how candidates were grouped.

Inslee landed in the first-night debate on June 26, along with some better-known contenders, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Others appearing on Inslee’s night will include: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

But it’s the second-night debate on June 27 that drew the biggest names in the race. Appearing that night will be former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg — four of the top five candidates in early polling.

They’ll be joined by California Rep. Eric Swalwell, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, self-help author Marianne Williamson, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.


The groupings were announced Friday by NBC News, which is sponsoring the debates. The random drawing was conducted to ensure that some of the higher-profile candidates would appear on each night, along with lesser-known contenders.

Inslee qualified for the first debate by reaching 1 percent in three qualifying polls and securing more than 65,000 individual donors from 20 states. That will also get him into the second debate, scheduled for July.

But Inslee will have to find a way to rise in the polls and attract thousands of new donors to make it to the third and fourth debates, scheduled for this fall. The DNC has announced candidates will have to reach 2 percent in polls and 130,000 donors to make it to those debates.

In a statement, Inslee spokesman Jared Leopold said Inslee is excited about making the first debate to introduce himself to voters “and to show why we need to make the climate crisis the top priority for the United States.”

Inslee has spent the last few weeks pushing DNC Chairman Tom Perez to devote one of its debates to climate change, the signature issue of his campaign. Perez has refused and the DNC has told Inslee’s campaign he cannot participate in a non-sanctioned climate debate.

The call for a climate-focused debate has been supported by more than a dozen 2020 candidates, and a petition in support of it, organized by Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, has been signed by more than 60 DNC members in 21 states, according to the state Democratic Party.

But Perez has held firm so far, arguing in a Medium post that changing the debate rules to favor one candidate’s top issue “would be putting our thumb on the scale.”