Democratic debate: Top 2020 hopefuls finally on same stage
HOUSTON — Despite the miles traveled, the tens of millions of dollars raised and the ceaseless churn of policy papers, the Democratic primary has been remarkably static for months with Joe Biden leading in polls, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders vying to be the progressive alternative. That stability is under threat on Thursday.
All of the top presidential candidates will share a debate stage, a setting that could make it harder to avoid skirmishes among the early front-runners. The other seven candidates, meanwhile, are under growing pressure to prove they‘re still in the race to take on President Donald Trump next November.
The debate in Houston comes at a pivotal point as many voters move past their summer vacations and start to pay closer attention to the campaign. With the audience getting bigger, the ranks of candidates shrinking and first votes approaching in five months, the stakes are rising.
“For a complete junkie or someone in the business, you already have an impression of everyone,” said Howard Dean, who ran for president in 2004 and later chaired the Democratic National Committee. “But now you are going to see increasing scrutiny with other people coming in to take a closer look.”
The debate will air on a broadcast network with a postLabor Day uptick in interest in the race, almost certainly giving the candidates their largest single audience yet. It’s also the first debate of the 2020 cycle that’s confined to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards.
Viewers will see the diversity of the modern Democratic Party. The debate, held on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University, features several women, people of color and a gay man, a striking contrast from the white and male Republican Party. It will unfold in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.
Perhaps the biggest question is how directly the candidates will attack one another. Some fights that were predicted in previous debates failed to materialize with candidates like Sanders and Warren in July joining forces to take on their rivals.
The White House hopefuls and their campaigns are sending mixed messages about how eager they are to make frontal attacks on anyone other than President Donald Trump. That could mean the first meeting between Warren, the rising progressive calling for “big, structural change,” and Biden, the more cautious but still ambitious establishmentarian, doesn’t define the night.
Or that Kamala Harris, the California senator, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, look to reclaim lost momentum not by punching upward but by reemphasizing their own visions for America.
Biden, who has led most national and early state polls since he joined the field in April, is downplaying the prospects of a titanic clash with Warren, despite their wellestablished policy differences on health care, taxes and financial regulation.
“I’m just going to be me, and she’ll be her, and let people make their judgments. I have great respect for her,” Biden said recently as he campaigned in South Carolina.
Warren says consistently that she has no interest in going after Democratic opponents.
Yet both campaigns are also clear that they don’t consider it a personal attack to draw sharp policy contrasts.
A Washington Post-ABC poll this week found that among Democrats and Democraticleaning voters, Biden garnered 29% support overall. Meanwhile, 45% thought he had the best chance to beat Trump, even though just 24% identified him as the “best president for the country” among the primary field.
A Washington Post-ABC poll said Joe Biden had 29% support overall among Democratic-leaning voters.