NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Watch the fourth 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate tonight!

Tonight, Otter­bein Uni­ver­si­ty, locat­ed in the sub­urbs of Colum­bus, Ohio, will be the scene of the fourth Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial debate in just a few hours.

Tout­ed as “the biggest pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry debate in his­to­ry,” by The New York Times and CNN, the debate will fea­ture twelve Democ­rats on stage (tech­ni­cal­ly not the biggest debate in his­to­ry, even in this pri­ma­ry cycle, since the June and July debates each fea­tured twen­ty can­di­dates over two nights).

The can­di­dates will appear on stage in this order:

  • Hawaii Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tul­si Gab­bard
  • Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire and activist Tom Stey­er
  • New Jer­sey Sen­a­tor Cory Book­er
  • Cal­i­for­nia Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris
  • Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders
  • For­mer-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden
  • Mass­a­chu­setts Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren
  • South Bend, Indi­ana, May­or Pete Buttigieg
  • New York Entre­pre­neur Andrew Yang
  • For­mer-Texas Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Beto O’Rourke
  • Min­neso­ta Sen­a­tor Amy Klobuchar
  • Former‑H.U.D. Sec­re­tary Julián Cas­tro

Tonight’s debate is expect­ed to dif­fer from the pre­vi­ous three, and not only because there are two more can­di­dates on stage.

First­ly, there are the three lead­ing can­di­dates – all have seen their sit­u­a­tions change dra­mat­i­cal­ly in dif­fer­ent ways since the last debate, which will like­ly affect the way the oth­er can­di­dates react to them.

The fron­trun­ner, Vice Pres­i­dent Biden, has found him­self in the cen­ter of the biggest news sto­ry in the world, the impeach­ment inquiry of Don­ald Trump. Trump’s attempts to under­mine Biden’s cam­paign could encour­age Demo­c­ra­t­ic sol­i­dar­i­ty behind him, but he could also face tricky ques­tions from the mod­er­a­tors and oth­er can­di­dates con­cern­ing his son Hunter’s busi­ness oper­a­tions.

Eliz­a­beth War­ren has gone from strength to strength to the point where she is now clear­ly chal­leng­ing Biden for the top spot in the polls.

How­ev­er, being in the top spot might expose her to more attacks from her rivals than she has pre­vi­ous­ly had to weath­er in debates.

Most dra­mat­i­cal­ly of all, Bernie Sanders recent­ly suf­fered a heart attack, a fact that will undoubt­ed­ly come up in the debate.

The ques­tion of age has repeat­ed­ly come up in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic debates, and the appar­ent decline in the sev­en­ty-eight year-old senator’s health will make it hard­er for him to con­vince the pub­lic that he should be the one to take the fight to Don­ald Trump, let alone take on the gru­el­ing job of pres­i­dent.

Age is an issue that is sure to arise in this debate, as it has before. All three lead­ing can­di­dates are in their sev­en­ties, and can­di­dates such as Pete Buttigieg (at thir­ty-eight, the only mil­len­ni­al can­di­date run­ning) have argued that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date should be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the increas­ing­ly youth-dri­ven par­ty.

How­ev­er, ageist attacks have not worked to date in the debates.

Eric Swal­well, who direct­ly called on Joe Biden to “pass the torch” in the June debate dropped out of the race short­ly after­wards. More recent­ly, Julián Cas­tro suf­fered a slump in his pop­u­lar­i­ty after he made a dig at Biden’s poor mem­o­ry. The can­di­dates on stage tonight will like­ly tread care­ful­ly around the issue.

An issue where the can­di­dates are unlike­ly to be so cir­cum­spect is the issue of impeach­ment. Impeach­ment is now such a big news sto­ry that the mod­er­a­tors are high­ly like­ly to deal with the issue first – mer­ci­ful­ly spar­ing the audi­ence from hav­ing to start the debate with an hour-long dis­sec­tion of the can­di­dates’ dif­fer­ing approach­es to expand­ing Amer­i­cans’ health­care cov­er­age.

Many of the can­di­dates have already called for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to impeach Pres­i­dent Trump and none have been shy about attack­ing the char­ac­ter and polit­i­cal record of the Pres­i­dent in pre­vi­ous debates.

Call­ing for impeach­ment is unlike­ly to move the nee­dle for any indi­vid­ual can­di­date, but the can­di­dates agree­ing on-stage on the issue may help to push pub­lic opin­ion fur­ther in favor of impeach­ment.

When impeach­ment comes up, it could give Tom Stey­er a chance to make some head­way – the bil­lion­aire (and new­com­er to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic debate stage) made his name in pol­i­tics by fund­ing and being the face of the Need to Impeach cam­paign. Steyer’s mes­sage feels increas­ing­ly prophet­ic as impeach­ment becomes increas­ing­ly like­ly. He would be wise to cap­i­tal­ize on it.

And then there’s Tul­si Gab­bard.

The mil­i­tary vet­er­an from Hawaii may prove to be some­thing of a wild card; her cam­paign has become increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ed by what they see as “rig­ging” by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee against “out­sider” can­di­dates, and Gab­bard ear­li­er threat­ened to boy­cott the debate before back­ing down.

Gab­bard also has an uncon­ven­tion­al his­to­ry as a law­mak­er, hav­ing per­son­al­ly met the mur­der­ous Syr­i­an dic­ta­tor Bashar al-Assad and sup­port­ed right-wing Hin­du nation­al­ist groups. The oth­er can­di­dates know this record, and may feel tempt­ed to bring it up if Gab­bard attacks them.

Of course, all this is pure spec­u­la­tion.

To find out what actu­al­ly hap­pens, watch the debate on nytimes.com, the New York Times app, CNN and CNN.com. The debate begins at 5 PM Pacif­ic Time (8 PM East­ern) and you can fol­low our live cov­er­age here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

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