ATLANTA, Georgia — The top-tier Democratic presidential contenders and those fighting to stay in the 2020 White House race are set to clash during Wednesday night’s November primary debate.
Front-runners such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will take jabs at each other from their respective podiums at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, businessman Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, will try to land punches from their spots on the wings.
Here are five moments or trends to watch out for during the fifth debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, and moderated, for the first time, by an all-female panel:
Buttigieg has a target on his back
Buttigieg, 37, is surging in Iowa ahead of the opening nominating caucuses on Feb. 3, with 25% of likely Democratic caucus-goers telling pollsters for the Des Moines Register and CNN that the openly gay, married Navy veteran was their first choice to become the party’s standard-bearer. The historically crowded field has swiped at Buttigieg in the past — first for, among other issues, his gun control rhetoric, for openly predicting the race will winnow to himself and Warren, and for using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to promote his policies for black America. But his rivals are increasingly hitting him for his lack of experience as a “college town mayor,” attacks in part motivated by the threat posed by his $23 million campaign war chest.
Warren is under assault for ‘Medicare for all’
Warren, 70, was the prime target of her opponents the last time candidates convened on October’s debate stage in Ohio, for failing to acknowledge the prospect of middle-class tax hikes under “Medicare for all.” In the ensuing weeks, the former Harvard Law School professor released a plan outlining her proposal to pay for a single-payer system and how she wants to transition to it, including passing comprehensive immigration reform. Biden and Buttigieg, in particular, have sustained their criticism of Warren’s plan on the trail. Sanders will likely continue to defend his signature platform if pushed to on Wednesday night.
Fireworks over “Medicare for all” represent a larger argument among the competitors, with many of Warren’s more centrist counterparts taking umbrage with her call for the party to reject a “safe” nominee. She told Democrats in Iowa this month anyone who “tells you to dream small and give up early is not going to lead our party to victory.” She and Biden, who turns 77 Wednesday, have exchanged barbs after the initial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau point person accused the 36-year Delaware senator of sticking up for health insurance companies, claiming he was running in the wrong party’s primary. Biden was a non-entity during the last debate, so he may go on the offensive.
When the White House hopefuls walk out on stage, they will do so amid the House Democratic-led impeachment investigation into President Trump and hours after a key witness, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, testifies before lawmakers. While the majority of the field has come out in support of impeachment, the politics of the proceedings are still playing out, with different consequences for the primary and general electorates, especially for Biden as a central figure in the investigation.
Will Klobuchar continue her Minnesota mean streak?
Klobuchar’s bid experienced a second-wind after the October debate when the 59-year-old dropped her “Minnesota nice” act and went after Warren. Though still trailing in national polls, the Midwest former prosecutor is looking to capitalize on a bump in public opinion in Iowa and New Hampshire. Simultaneously, Harris, 55, another ex-prosecutor who has also qualified for December’s debate but has diverted staff from New Hampshire and Nevada to Iowa, needs a moment, as well, to salvage her presidential efforts. Unlike Klobuchar’s blows aimed at Warren, Harris’ confrontation of Biden in June over federally mandated busing received mixed reviews for coming across as premediated.
Gabbard’s last stand
Gabbard, 38, has gained a reputation for her debate take-downs, first of Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in June over Middle East foreign policy and Harris in July over her prosecutorial record. Wednesday is likely to be the Hawaii National Guard major’s last appearance on a stage as the qualifying polling and fundraising criteria become more stringent heading into December. Booker, Steyer, and Yang additionally have nothing to lose given they are yet to cross the thresholds to participate in the next round, set to be hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19.
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