Because Delaware Debates falls during the "pre-election period" (30 days or less before election), all candidates who meet the criteria established by the Debate Advisory Standards Project (a joint project of Pew Center and Knight Center) and have demonstrated a serious purpose and have gathered the necessary public support (as explained below), will be invited to debate. To demonstrate the seriousness of purpose plus significant public support to be included in debates during the pre-election period, the candidate shall meet all legal qualifications to hold the office and shall have qualified for the ballot. In addition, the candidate must meet one or more of the following inclusion criteria:
- The candidate has received 10 percent or more of the vote, tested in a trial heat, in a professionally conducted public opinion survey by an experienced pollster based on a scientific sample of the entire electorate with a margin of error of less than five percent (at a 95 percent level of confidence).
- A pollster shall be considered "experienced" if he or she is a member of the American Association of Political Consultants, the World Association for Public Opinion Research, American Association for Public Opinion Research or the American Political Science Association for at least three years; and has either been employed by media or other nonpartisan organizations to do national, statewide or congressional district polling with published results, or has been employed professionally, as evidenced by reports filed with governmental entities, by at least three political campaigns in at least three separate elections, political committees or candidates for statewide, congressional, countywide and/or state legislative offices.
- The candidate has reported in legal documents filed with federal, state or local governmental entities the receipt, during that election campaign, of at least 2 campaign contributions per 1,000 residents of the constituency (based on the total number of persons enumerated in the last U.S. census of Delaware) of $20 or more, excluding contributions received from the candidate himself or herself, the candidate's spouse or the candidate's natural or adopted children. Documentation is required listing the names, addresses, phone numbers and contribution amount of all contributions used to qualify under this criterion, following the format of Delaware Campaign Finance laws.
- The candidate previously had been elected to, or held, the office to which he or she is seeking election.
- The candidate is the official nominee of a political party that:
- received at least 10 percent of the vote in the most recent prior gubernatorial general election in the state where the constituency is located; or
- received at least 10 percent of the vote in the prior presidential general election in the state where the constituency is located; or
- received at least 15 percent of the vote in the prior general election for the office to which he or she is seeking election.
- The candidate sought, during the prior 8 years, the nomination of a political party in a primary election to the same office he or she is seeking, provided, however, that the candidate either
- won the primary election, or
- received a number of votes equal to an amount at least 10 percent of the total number of all registered or qualified voters in the constituency in said primary election.
- The candidate sought the same office during the prior 8 years and received at least 30 percent of the vote in the general election.
If a candidate believes that he or she is eligible for inclusion in Delaware Debates by these standards, the candidate must notify Nancy Karibjanian, Director, Center for Political Communication, University of Delaware, or Jane Vincent, President, Delaware Public Media, in writing no later than 10 days before the scheduled debate. The candidate must include all paperwork to support his or her petition for inclusion.