The second half of the two-part first Democratic debate in Miami is set for June 27, and the prevailing wisdom is that there is more heft in this lineup than there was for Night One. But while no one denies that Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are top dogs for now in the field of more than 20 candidates, a couple of other second-evening names also being thrown around as weighty still have much to prove.
Here are the ten candidates who will debate on Night Two:
- Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
- Kamala Harris (D-CA)
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, IN
- Michael Bennet (D-CO)
- Author Marianne Williamson
- Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
- Businessman Andrew Yang
- Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
Want to Be Big Time
Harris and Buttigieg have been touted for months as high-quality contenders for the Dem nomination, but is that really the case? Harris is a far weaker candidate than the media portray her, with substantial shortcomings that hint of future struggles to reach progressive voters on a national level. Her Chris Christie-like “tough prosecutor” theme does not jibe with leftists, who want to see radical criminal justice reform that includes severe reductions in incarceration rates. Moreover, Harris is hardly a star in her home state, the blue bastion of California. A 2018 Morning Consult poll found that 28% of state residents surveyed either didn’t know or had no opinion of her. This after she had been a sitting U.S. senator for over a year. Harris has hardly secured her own nest yet, much less made a dent on the national scene. Much as she would like to continue to be defined as a major player in the race, Harris hasn’t done much to move the needle. She doesn’t need a crowning moment in Miami, but Harris must show that there is far more to her campaign than she has shown up to this point.
Buttigieg has the most to lose of all 20 candidates heading to South Florida. Outrageously favorable media coverage has largely disguised the fact that the small-town mayor has never won a statewide, much less national, election. He clearly feels his homosexuality is a huge selling point for a party in thrall to identity politics, yet the more he harps on the subject, the greater the danger that he will come across as a one-trick pony. He likes to talk about “values” and “vision” but hasn’t outlined these vague notions in terms of unique policy platforms that would justify voters seeking out a young local official with no significant accomplishments to hang his hat on. Buttigieg must cogently explain to a national audience just what it is that makes him a bold new option in this 2020 field. Based on what we’ve seen so far, however, we’re far more likely to get Hallmark Card platitudes than a serious discussion of the issues from the official Mr. Gay Midwesterner candidate.
Will Bernie Be a Tiger?
Biden and Sanders have a chance to take shots at each other if they so choose, though neither has to so early in the race. There will be other debates with smaller fields, and they will offer a better opportunity for personal skirmishes. That said, Sanders has a nice opening at Biden’s rib cage in light of recent media reports of Blue Collar Joe’s pampered political rock star lifestyle. The Washington Post reported on June 25 that Biden has earned millions since leaving the Obama administration. The paper says he charges up to $200,000 for some speeches and demands “Caprese salad and raspberry sorbet with biscotti for dessert” at all engagements he agrees to attend.
It’s not hard to goad Biden into gaffes, and needling him along these lines may prove profitable for Sanders, who can combine the assault with a renewed declaration of his commitment to working-class voters. Even if he chooses not to target Biden, Sanders will get to contrast his frumpy “democratic socialist” persona with Biden’s well-coiffed establishment figurehead standing to good effect in the eyes of progressive voters.
Not Much After That
The remaining six candidates on Night Two all will be seeking to increase their standing in the crowded field. Gillibrand was supposed to be a top-shelf candidate, but her muddled campaign to date has done her enormous harm. Gillibrand has yet to find a progressive talking point that she won’t shamelessly pander to and has relentlessly flip-flopped on previous policy positions. Not only is her presidential campaign already on rocky ground, but the sheer incompetence she has displayed lends credence to rumors that her senatorial career may eventually be threatened as well, even though she is not up for re-election until 2024. It is somewhat shocking that a U.S. senator can so utterly fail to capitalize on the advantages that come with high office and run such a trite, meaningless campaign.
The two Coloradans in the race, Bennet and Hickenlooper, are afflicted with the same problem facing the lesser lights that make up most of the Night One field. Both tease now and again that they are more centrist than the rest, but when pushed on particular issues, they remain comfortably ensconced in the progressive Dem cocoon. Quite simply, there is no path for victory for smaller names that parrot the same party line that all the other candidates are already voicing.
Swalwell is the Bill de Blasio of Night Two. Abrasive, self-aggrandizing, and not likable, look for him to try to engineer some kind of contrived controversy in order to garner attention for himself. He will have his appointed time to talk, and then he will be largely forgotten.
Finally, there are the two outside-the-box long shots, Williamson and Yang. Both are running gimmicky campaigns, and it’s a shame to have to say that about Yang because it didn’t have to be that way. While his call for universal basic income has many drawbacks, Yang began his insurgent campaign by eloquently highlighting the most crucial debate topic of the 2020 election: the suffering of the American working and middle class. Unfortunately, the mercurial Yang was not disciplined enough to focus on this vital topic in a laser-like Ross Perot manner.
Instead, he veered off into insane policy positions on gun control and immigration reform and completely lost the momentum he initially generated with his strong critiques on giant, faceless corporations and the damage they do to local U.S. communities. Yang was never going to win the nomination, but it was hoped his presence on the dais could spur a much-needed conversation on the employment crisis facing too many Americans in this country. Those hopes have largely faded. Wellness guru Williamson has nothing to offer at all, and will instantly fade away after her brief moment in the spotlight.
Night Two then seems mostly to be about a Top Two and a Second Two. Whereas Biden and Sanders will see their fates affected more in later debates, Harris and Buttigieg must make some hay right now. If they do not, their names may very well be listed among the remaining dwarves who survive to move on to Round Two.
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