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Tom Steyer appears to qualify for next Democratic debate after new polls

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By Ben Kamisar  with NBC News Politics
Image: US-VOTE-2020-DEMOCRATS-DEBATE
Tom Steyer participates in the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.   -   Copyright  Frederic J. Brown AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer has met the qualifications for next week's Democratic presidential primary debate after two new polls released just one day before the deadline showed him with significant support in Nevada and South Carolina.

Steyer netted 12 percent of likely Nevada Democratic caucus-goers and 15 percent of likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters in the new polling, released by Fox News Thursday night.

The poll results make Steyer the sixth candidate to qualify for the debate stage, joining former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The lineup for next Tuesday's debate, sponsored by CNN and the Des Moines Register, will not be official until the Democratic National Committee certifies the field.

The qualification threshold also relies on donor information self-released by the campaigns.

Candidates have to raise money from 225,000 unique donors and hit one of two polling thresholds in order to make the debate stage. To meet the polling qualification, a candidate must register at least 5 percent support in polling in four separate polls, taken either nationally or in any of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. Or, the polling threshold may be met by a candidate reaching 7 percent in two polls taken in any of those early states.

There has not been much recent polling in Nevada or South Carolina, but the new results represent a significant increase from Steyer's standing in previous polls in those states. Steyer's campaign had previously announced it hit the unique donor threshold.

He's blanketed both states (as well as Iowa and New Hampshire) with television and radio advertising.

In Nevada, Steyer has spent $10.4 million of the $10.6 million spent by all the Democratic candidates on TV and radio ads. And in South Carolina, he's spent $14 million of the $16.2 million the candidates have spent on such advertising, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

Candidates have until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to qualify for next Tuesday's debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Businessman Andrew Yang says he's hit the donor threshold but has hit 5 percent in only one poll. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's campaign also says he's hit the donor threshold, but he hasn't hit 5 percent in any qualifying poll.

While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has hit the polling requirement, he is not soliciting individual donors. That decision all-but guarantees he won't be on the debate stage in January.