It’s official: We now know which candidates will be facing off during the first Democratic National Committee debate June 26 and 27 in Miami.
The first night will feature Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro, Tim Ryan, Bill de Blasio, and Jay Inslee.
The second group, which will debate the following night, will feature Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Marianne Williamson, Eric Swalwell, Andrew Yang, and John Hickenlooper.
Here are four takeaways from the announced lineups:
It sure looks like there’s a tiered debate structure
The front-runners of the crowded 2020 primary field are featured heavily on the second night, with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg among the slate of 10. For example, all polled above 7 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll of 500 likely voters.
As for the first night, Warren had 15 percent of support in the Quinnipiac poll, but none of the candidates she is set to debate received more than 3 percent of support. The lineup could be an opportunity for Warren to stand out.
The Democratic National Committee said that it would not create an “undercard” debate, as was done during the 2016 Republican primaries, and said it would try to spread the front-runners across both nights using a set of two random draws, one for candidates polling at above 2 percent and one for the rest of the field. The idea was to avoid charges of favoritism that dogged the DNC throughout the 2016 presidential primary campaign. But with NBC’s decision to hold the Biden/Sanders/Harris/Buttigieg group’s debate Thursday night — reportedly to “maximize viewership” — there appears to be a tiered structure despite the DNC’s efforts.
No Biden/Warren rematch . . .
With Biden and Warren appearing on separate stages, we won’t get a replay of Warren’s 2005 face-off with the then-senator during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on changes to personal bankruptcy law.
Warren, then a Harvard Law professor, appeared at the hearing to fight a proposed bill that would make it harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy, thereby discharging their debt.
Biden, who voted in favor of the bill, challenged Warren’s criticism that credit card companies were getting their loans repaid before driving people into bankruptcy with interest and fees, which Biden said was merely a complaint about predatory credit practices, not a flaw in the bill.
“But, senator, if you’re not going to fix that problem, you can’t take away the last shred of protection for these families,” Warren said, referring to bankruptcy.
“I got it, OK, you’re very good, professor,” Biden said.
It’s clear Warren is ready to revive the issue. She criticized Biden as being “on the side of credit card companies” shortly after he got into the race.
. . . but there are plenty of others eager to attack Biden
Biden will stand on stage alongside a formidable group — with some running well to his left and all surely eager to knock him down a few points in the polls. In particular, Sanders has been critical of Biden’s stances on health care and trade policy.
And the 37-year-old Buttigieg has tried to make age an issue in the election, though he’s refrained from explicitly referencing Biden. He’s taken veiled jabs at Biden’s recent statement that Republicans will experience an “epiphany” if Trump is out of the presidency.
“Democrats can no more keep a promise to take us back to the 2000s or the 1990s than conservatives can keep a promise to take us back to the 1950s. We can only look forward,” Buttigieg has said.
Biden could find that he spends the precious few speaking minutes he gets defending himself from the much of the field.
The debates, as always, are an opportunity for lesser-known candidates to make inroads
Candidates who have not gained much traction have an opportunity to make their case before an audience of politically engaged Democratic voters. For some, there’s nowhere to go but up: Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Gabbard, Delaney, Inslee, Bennet, de Blasio, Williamson, and Swalwell all polled at zero percent in the recent Qunnipiac poll.
In beginning of the presidential primary season in August 2015, 24 million viewers tuned in to a Fox News debate of Republican candidates. If the Democratic debates approach that kind of viewership, it’s a real opportunity for those candidates who are not household names to introduce themselves to Americans.
Then again, 10 candidates will need to share two hours of speaking time. Representative Seth Moulton, who did not qualify for the debate stage, has said he thinks that kind of speaking time math would negate any advantage gained by participating.
“Folks are barely going to get a chance to speak,” the Salem Democrat told Hugh Hewitt, a nationally syndicated radio show host. “This is a long campaign. And it’s not going to be decided by the Democratic National Committee in their debates.”