One month after the first set of debates in Miami, Florida, 20 of the Democratic presidential hopefuls will square off in what for many of them could be their last chance to make an impression before the American public.
The threshold to qualify for the third round of debates in September is expected to grow tighter, raising the stakes for their appearances in Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and paving the way for candidates who don’t break out to be forced out of the race.
Sanders and Warren, whose populist appeals have made them icons of the grassroots, will be one of several closely-watched matchups. Wednesday’s debate will see former vice-president Joe Biden and California senator Kamala Harris split centerstage once again, following their contentious encounter in Miami over race and segregation.
Each night will feature 10 different contenders to accommodate the sprawling Democratic field, which has seen the party locked in an increasingly bitter ideological struggle while seeking to limit Donald Trump’s presidency to a single term.
Few contenders have wielded as much influence in shaping the Democratic party’s progressive agenda as Sanders and Warren, who on Tuesday will be given a chance to defend the platform that critics contend is too ‘far-left’ to wrench the White House from Trump’s grasp.
Sanders and Warren have been the architects of sweeping changes to address healthcare, taxes and income inequality.
The single-payer healthcare proposal championed by Sanders, known as Medicare for All, has been embraced by a number of Democratic candidates. Warren has meanwhile pushed for a wealth tax on the ultra-rich. Both senators are proponents of debt-free college tuition and breaking up big banks.
Aides said they do not expect Sanders and Warren, who serve alongside one another in the US Senate and are longtime friends, to clash. But the liberal firebrands are likely to face pushback from a number of centrists onstage who have struggled to gain traction, such as Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, Ohio representative Tim Ryan and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.
Rising stars Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke will also take the stage on Tuesday in what could be a direct opportunity to contrast their candidacies, having both staked out ground as next-generation candidates pushing for change. Despite a significant amount of media buzz around their prospects, both Buttigieg and O’Rourke remain in single digits in most polling.
Biden, who continues to hold a commanding lead in the polls, is expected to be a top target yet again after stumbling through his confrontation with Harris in last month’s debate.
The former two-term vice-president visibly struggled to defend his decades-old position on court-ordered busing when attacked by Harris, who spoke in personal terms about being bussed to school as a little girl in California. Biden has nonetheless rebounded in the polls, where he is ahead of Sanders, Warren and Harris by double digits.
In a sign that the fireworks will once again be on display, Biden wasted little time in criticizing a healthcare plan unveiled by Harris on Monday.
Shortly after Harris released her own Medicare for All proposal, which would maintain a role for private insurers and be phased in over a decade, Biden’s campaign dismissed the plan as a “have-it-every-which-way approach” that would not even take shape during a Harris presidency.
“The result? A Bernie Sanders-lite Medicare for All and a refusal to be straight with the American middle class, who would have a large tax increase forced on them with this plan,” said Kate Bedingfield, a Biden deputy campaign manager.
Sanders’ campaign also knocked the California senator for “walking away” from his Medicare for All bill, of which Harris is a co-sponsor in the Senate.
Healthcare has been a top priority of voters going into the 2020 election and is expected to be a central pillar of the Democratic party’s message.
In addition to Biden and Harris, Wednesday’s debate will also feature New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who has traded his own barbs with Biden on race, as well as candidates in desperate need of a breakthrough, such as former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Washington governor Jay Inslee.
In order to qualify for the next debates, scheduled for 12-13 September in Houston, Texas, candidates will need to amass 130,000 donors and reach 2% or more in at least four qualifying polls. Should no more than 10 candidates meet those requirements, the debate will be limited to just one night.
Source: The Guardian