2019 Democratic Presidential Debates, Round 2
2019 Democratic Presidential Debates, Round 2

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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