After a series of sharp exchanges on the first night of debates in Miami, that four of the top five candidates in the 2020 race – including former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – will be on the stage together means the possibility for high-profile exchanges are all but certain.
Here are some key questions headed into the Thursday’s debate:
Biden v. Bernie: How will the two top contenders in the Democratic primary – who will be standing side by side – handle each other? Sanders has shown a willingness to go after Biden in speeches and interviews, but, to date, the former vice president has only occasionally engaged with any of the criticism he has received from the party’s liberal wing. Will that continue on Thursday?
Prosecutor Harris: The California senator is in the top tier, but her campaign has cycled through different messaging over the last few months. Lately she has embraced her past a prosecutor, arguing that the Democratic nominee needs to be able to “prosecute” the case against Trump. Does the California Democrat focus her energy on the Republican in the White House or the Democrats flanking her left and right?
Can Buttigieg overcome South Bend? The South Bend Mayor comes into the debate on defense after weeks of strife in his hometown over after a white police officer shot a black man who was allegedly breaking into cars and wielding a knife. The incident has raised new questions about the police force and his handling of the city and could further complicate his efforts to win over black voters. Polls show he is struggling with the key Democratic demographic. Will other candidates bring up the issues Buttigieg faces at home? His campaign is preparing to respond to such attacks, aides said.
Which Biden shows up? Biden has done well in past debates, but this is his first primetime debate since facing off with then Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan in 2012. Both Biden, and the party he is seeking to represent, have changed since them. Will that show?
Hickenlooper vs. the left: Hickenlooper, more than anyone else on the stage, has been critical of Sanders and the left of the Democratic Party. It’s not a question of will he attack Sanders, it’s a matter how much time he decides to spend on his progressive rival. Sanders would likely welcome those attacks, so does the former Colorado governor risk playing into the senator’s hands and, in the meantime, missing out on an opportunity to introduce himself to voters.
Who is…? For anyone not in the top tier – namely businessman Andrew Yang and author Marianne Williamson, the two candidates on stage who aren’t elected officials – the goal may be to get people at home to hop on Google and search “who is” your name. Yang has a devoted online following, but many people have never heard of him and a boost with people who don’t live online could be critical. Williamson, too, has run a unique campaign and this could be her best moment to introduce herself.
Will the Supreme Court’sgerrymandering andcensus decisions make debate waves? Earlier today, the Supreme Court handed down a pair of hotly anticipated decisions: First, it ruled that partisan gerrymandering couldn’t be challenged in the courts. Then the justices said that, at least for now, the Trump administration could not add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The gerrymandering decision will allow legislative and governing majorities to continue to draw up maps that effectively guarantee their grip on state government. It’s a decision Democrats rushed to condemn and that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in a tweet, called an “abomination.”
The question now: The courts have taken on greater weight with Democrats during the Trump (and McConnell) Era… so what do the candidates here propose to do about it?
There has been lots of debate within the party over how to deal with a Supreme Court that seems likely to skew in conservatives’ favor for a long time to come. Some progressives want add more justices, or pack the court, while others have discussed rotating justices into and out of their seats — ending the current lifetime appointments.
Thursday rulings have thrust those questions and propositions back into the spotlight. And that will give the candidates on stage a chance to step out and make some headlines.