Well, America, we’ve done it. We’ve nearly made it to the latest milestone in this interminable presidential contest: the November Democratic primary debate in Atlanta.
By now, we pretty much know the drill: Contenders will be arrayed on a primary-color-saturated stage, eager to wow the audience with their policy know-how, personal charm and pre-cooked zingers.
On Wednesday night, they’ll be at it again. MSNBC and the Washington Post are hosting the fifth debate, which will feature 10 candidates.
For the front-runners — including an ascendant Pete Buttigieg — it’s a chance to firm up their standing. For the also-rans, another chance to break out. (Or, in the case of Kamala Harris, to regain her old top-tier status.)
The event will be mercifully shorter than previous marathons, which clocked in at more than three hours. This session is scheduled to last just two hours.
You can catch the action starting at 6 p.m. Pacific time on MSNBC or streaming online at msnbc.com and washingtonpost.com.
So who will be appearing Wednesday?
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will take center stage at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, flanked by close rivals Mayor Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Three other senators — Cory Booker of New Jersey, Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — made the cut.
So did Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer.
That sure sounds like a lot of people.
It is! But it’s fewer than last month’s debate. That gathering featured 12 contenders — a record-setting size — including former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the race this month, and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, who is still in the running but didn’t qualify this time.
But wait, aren’t there new candidates in the race? I’m dying to hear from Deval Patrick.
Hate to break it to you, but Patrick won’t be making his debate debut. The former Massachusetts governor made a last-minute plunge into the campaign Nov. 14 — so last minute that he didn’t make the qualifications to appear onstage. Same goes for former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is publicly flirting with a run but hasn’t pulled the trigger yet.
To make it onstage, candidates needed to hit thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee on grass-roots fundraising (at least 165,000 unique donors, including a minimum of 600 donors per state from at least 20 states) and polling (registering at least 3% support in at least four national or early-state polls approved by the DNC, or 5% support in at least two polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada).
So it’ll be the same ol’ crop of faces onstage?
Sure, among the candidates. But there’s a fresh dynamic among the moderators: It’s an all-female panel this time, consisting of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent and MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell; Kristen Welker, White House correspondent for NBC News; and Ashley Parker, who covers the White House for the Washington Post.
Remind me — what happened in the October debate?
Warren got her first taste of what it’s like to be considered a front-runner. She was hammered by more moderate rivals such as Biden and Buttigieg for her unabashedly liberal policy proposals, particularly her support for “Medicare for all.” The moderators and candidates alike pressed her on whether middle-class taxes would go up under her healthcare plan.
Wasn’t that question asked in the September debate?
And the one in July?
Surely it’s been hashed over enough by now.
Perhaps, but there’s a good chance it will come up again. Since the last time the candidates debated, Warren has rolled out her proposal to finance Medicare for all and a transition plan for the massive overhaul such a program would entail. That’s drawn a lot of sniping from Biden and Buttigieg. Sanders, the original author of Medicare for all, has made his critiques as well.
Is there a new dynamic worth watching for this time?
Keep your eyes on Buttigieg. He’s been steadily climbing in early primary states, especially in Iowa, where a recent poll had him in the lead for the first time. This will be his first debate as a solidly top-tier candidate. How he handles his time in the hot seat could propel or stunt his growing profile.
That’s a lot of pressure. Will this debate really make or break his candidacy?
We’re not ones to speculate. But if you look at past debates this cycle, they haven’t done all that much to affect the race. Yes, Harris generated lots of buzz in the first debate in June when she challenged Biden on his history on school busing, but her polling surge was short-lived. The general contours of this race have been set off the debate stage: Biden and Sanders have remained consistently at the head of the pack, while Warren and Buttigieg have risen thanks more to a strong on-the-ground presence in early-voting states than any one dazzling debate exchange.
Plus, in this chaotic news environment, it’s hard for any one moment to capture and retain public attention.
Come on — 10 Democratic candidates on one stage. That’s got to be the biggest political news event happening on Wednesday.
Au contraire, my friend. While Democrats are preparing to duke it out in the Peach State, many eyes will be on Washington, where the House of Representatives will be continuing public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Testifying will be Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union and a central player in the Ukraine saga — a tale involving withheld military aid and Trump’s request that the newish Ukrainian leader “do us a favor” and investigate his political rivals. It’s got the potential to be the most explosive impeachment testimony so far.
So, theoretically, I’ll be glued to my television all day?
It’s possible! It’s a true politics marathon. We recommend carbo-loading and plenty of hydration.