On Wednesday, the ten leading Democratic candidates will meet in Atlanta, GA, for the fifth presidential primary debate of this election cycle.
The candidates on stage will be as follows:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
- Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
- Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana
- Senator Kamala Harris of California
- Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey
- Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
- Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
- Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang
- Billionaire activist Tom Steyer
The stage will be back down to just ten podiums on one night as it was for the September debate. Viewers might miss a couple of familiar faces, such as former Representative Beto O’Rourke (who dropped out of the race at the start of this month) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who failed to meet the criteria to qualify for the November debate.
This round of the debates had the most rigorous criteria yet for entry: candidates had to earn 3% in four national polls, or 5% in two early state polls, and their campaigns had to have at least 165,000 unique donors, six hundred of whom had to be from at least twenty states.
The debate will to some extent be overshadowed by the ongoing impeachment process in Washington D.C., especially with the House of Representatives having began televised hearings. As Margaret O’Mara – an American history professor at the University of Washington – put it, there is now “an even bigger television event that’s overshadowing them.” Although none of the candidates are directly involved in the impeachment process, five of them are sitting Senators who may eventually have a say in whether President Trump is removed from office.
The impeachment inquiry will also be an opportunity for all the candidates to emphasize their unified opposition to Trump’s actions as the current occupant of the presidency, as they have done in previous debates.
Another issue that is guaranteed to come up in this debate is healthcare, which has played a dominant role in the previous debates.
This time, however, Elizabeth Warren could have an edge, having recently released a comprehensive, fully-costed plan for implementing Medicare for All.
In October’s debate, Warren’s weakest moment came when Joe Biden and other candidates battered her for evading questions about whether her plan will raise middle-class taxes; now she will be able to confidently tell her opponents that her ambitious proposal won’t raise middle class taxes by a dime, while raising the standard and fairness of healthcare in the country enormously.
It is hard to see how Biden and other neoliberal Democrats will be able to counter this, beyond dredging up the Republican-style talking points that have already been debunked by Warren’s campaign and progressive thinkers.
The issue of reproductive justice is almost certain to come up, especially since MSNBC and The Washington Post have chosen an all-female panel to moderate. However, there is unlikely to be much substantial debate over this issue, since all the candidates’ positions are more or less aligned.
This will be another opportunity for the Democrats to lambast the Trump regime over its opposition to womxn’s reproductive freedoms.
Wednesday’s debate will be held in Atlanta, a hub of black culture and activism, and questions concerning racial, criminal and social justice are bound to arise.
Joe Biden has the most to lose here; although he has strong support among black voters, his long and problematic record on racial issues (he supported “tough on crime” policies that decimated nlack communities, opposed desegregation busing, and boasted about his “civility” towards openly racist segregationist senators).
Warren – who has had trouble making inroads with the black community – will want to use the opportunity, but it is unclear what path she could take to do so.
Bernie Sanders has a strong base of support among millennial African-Americans, who tend to be far more left-leaning and activist than their elders and will probably use questions concerning race to critique the broad inequalities plaguing America.
Beyond issues centering on racial justice, the fact that the debate takes place in Georgia may prompt some questions about the state’s political future.
While Georgia has been a reliably red state for a number of years, Democrats have high hopes of flipping it to blue, especially since both of the state’s seats in the United States Senate are up for grabs next year.
Stacey Abrams’ pioneering gubernatorial candidacy showed that Democrats could be competitive in Georgia. Abrams lost a close race to Republican Brian Kemp, who used his power as Secretary of State to put tens of thousands of African-Americans’ voter registrations on hold until his victory. The issue of voter suppression is a vital one in Georgia, and Democratic presidential candidates would be smart to come to the stage with ideas of how to fight back.
(Abrams will be in Seattle this Sunday for a fundraising brunch in support of Jay Inslee, who is running for a third term as Governor of Washington State.)
Given the tightening in the polls between the candidates and the fact that the field is now in a headlong rush towards the Iowa caucuses in February, viewers should expect some fierce interpersonal sparring.
Warren and Biden are both the front-runners and representatives of the party’s two major conflicting wings, as well as having a long history of personal dislike for one another. These two have already sparred fiercely in previous debates and there seems no reason to doubt that this will happen again.
Warren and Sanders have maintained a semi-alliance so far in this primary, but there is increasingly anti-Warren sentiment on the left.
Mayor Buttigieg has so far had fairly quiet and unremarkable debate performances, but he has been steadily rising in the polls. He is in such a strong position in Iowa there is now talk that he may win the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus.
The other campaigns have noticed this, and he will have to prepare for more targeted scrutiny and criticism than he has previously had to deal with.
The debate will take place on Wednesday November 20th from 6 PM to 8 PM Pacific. It will be broadcast on MSNBC, and will be available to stream on MSNBC.com as well as on The Washington Post’s website. You can also follow along with us here on The Cascadia Advocate during that same timeframe.