The 7 Big Questions Going Into Tonight's Debate

What to look for when the presidential hopefuls take the stage
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 20, 2019 7:04 AM CST
Tonight's Democratic Debate: 10 Candidates, 7 Big Questions
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

New uncertainty hangs over the Democratic presidential primary as 10 candidates meet on the debate stage once again Wednesday night—just 75 days before primary voting begins. Here are 7 big questions heading into the debate, which begins at 9pm ET on MSNBC and will feature an all-female line-up of moderators.

  1. Who is the frontrunner? Turbulent polling across the early voting states has created a murky picture of the top tier of the 2020 class, reports the AP. As much as Joe Biden is still a frontrunner, so are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders. The question is who gets the frontrunner treatment in Wednesday’s debate. Warren was under near-constant attack last month as a new leader. Will Warren continue to face the heat, or will the ascendant Buttigieg or weakening Biden take more hits?
  2. Can they save themselves? New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, businessman Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer are under enormous pressure to break out given their status as the only candidates onstage who haven't yet qualified for the December debate. They likely won't have the same number of opportunities to speak as their higher-polling rivals, but these are dire times for the underdogs. They need to do something if they expect to stay relevant in the 2020 conversation.

  1. How will Obama play? Former President Obama, the most popular Democrat in America, inserted himself into the 2020 primary in recent days by warning candidates against moving too far to the left. His comments create a challenge for Warren and Sanders and an opening for moderates Buttigieg, Biden, and Amy Klobuchar to attack. At the same time, Obama’s involvement offers a powerful reminder of the massive role African Americans will play in the presidential nomination process. All candidates not named Biden have serious work to do when it comes to winning over the black vote.
  2. What will we hear on impeachment? Political analyst Brian Sobel tells Fortune that the subject is clearly one that can't be ignored, and it will be "interesting" to see who is most vocal on the subject. "There will be a continued chorus and endorsement to see the need to impeach Trump," he says, "but with so many candidates, they should also focus on how their messages can separate themselves from the rest of the pack."
  3. Will they bash the billionaires? Never before has wealth been under such aggressive attack in a presidential primary election. Billionaire Steyer has largely gone under the radar, but the even wealthier Michael Bloomberg has generated tremendous buzz as he steps toward a run of his own. Of the two, only Steyer will be onstage, but expect Bloomberg’s shadow in particular to generate passionate arguments about wealth and the role of money in politics.
  4. Will someone stand up for the establishment? Biden continues to be the favorite of many establishment Democrats, but his underwhelming candidacy has created an opening for another pragmatic-minded Democrat to step up. Buttigieg stepped aggressively into the establishment lane in the last debate, but many donors and elected officials remain skeptical of the 37-year-old small-city mayor’s chances. The opportunity is there for lower-tier candidates including Kamala Harris, Klobuchar, and Steyer.
  5. Does Warren have a plan for that? No single issue has dominated the initial Democratic primary debates more than health care, and it’s safe to assume that will be the case again Wednesday night. And no one has more riding on that specific debate than Warren, who hurt herself last month by stumbling through questions about the cost of her single-payer health care plan. Given that policy specifics make up the backbone of her candidacy, she can’t afford another underwhelming performance on the defining policy debate of the primary season.
(More Election 2020 stories.)

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