NBC has announced the first Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential race, to be held in Miami on June 26 and 27. As with thoroughbred horse racing, some candidates may have more reason to be pleased with their assigned post positions than others.
The ten members of the first night’s debate are:
- Cory Booker (D-NJ)
- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
- Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)
- Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD)
- Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
- Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro
- Tim Ryan (D-OH)
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
The second evening’s line-up includes:
- Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
- Kamala Harris (D-CA)
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Michael Bennet (D-CO)
- Author Marianne Williamson
- Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
- Businessman Andrew Yang
- Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
Ladies Look to Shine
What immediately jumps out is Warren not getting to share a stage with either Biden or Sanders. There are two ways to look at this, one being that the Massachusetts senator will miss a chance to spray some fire at the two leading candidates in the field so far. But Warren should actually be happy with her placement in the less prominent night one field, which is also missing attention-getters Buttigieg and Harris.
Surrounded by the likes of long-shot candidates Delaney, Castro, Ryan, and Inslee, Warren will easily be able to assume the mantle of serious contender. The object in the summer of 2019 is to winnow the field, and Warren will only have to avoid making mistakes in Miami to secure her perch in the pecking order. Then, she will be able to tackle smaller fields in later debates, where she will get more optimal opportunities to challenge Biden and Sanders in person.
Another candidate who should be pleased with her ticket to the first-evening cast is Gabbard. The Hawaiian is an outsider whose unorthodox beliefs (by current Dem standards) may be able to spark the heated but meaningful policy conversation the party dearly needs to see on the debate stage. Gabbard has voiced important concerns over the Democrats’ drift towards pro-war foreign interventionism. Heck, if radical moderator Rachel Maddow takes the bait, Gabbard can make serious hay deploring fellow party members’ dangerous Russia conspiracy obsessions. That message would likely be lost in the shuffle amid the bigger names in the crowded evening two field. Gabbard has a real chance to make waves on night one and be remembered as a key tone-setter in Miami.
Klobuchar simply needs to explain to the American people just who she is. Lacking the name recognition of every other senator in the field with the exception of Bennet, she too will likely fare well being surrounded by lesser entities than herself. Having former flavor-of-the-day Booker and the lightweight O’Rourke around her should provide a boost as she attempts to showcase her bona fides to the nation. Her campaign needs to grow, and it’s hard to look small when you’re standing next to Booker and O’Rourke.
Night Two Nightmare Scenarios
If there were one candidate most negatively affected by the announced lineup, it would be Gillibrand. Already running an absolute fiasco of a campaign marked by shameless flip-flops and flagrant pandering on every progressive talking point, the last thing she needs is to drift into the shadows cast by a Biden vs. Bernie vocal exchange. Biden and Sanders may engage in some sparring on night two, but neither needs to focus on a kill shot at this point. As with Warren, the idea is to move on to future debates absent 15 or so of the other dwarves.
Buttigieg may actually have the most to lose of all 20 entrants. Having enjoyed fawning media attention for some time, he must now allay largely unspoken fears that, as with the feckless O’Rourke, there is no substance. An examination of his mediocre record as mayor of South Bend offers no real reason to show he belongs in this field, and the “I’m the gay, regular Middle America guy” shtick will not be enough to hide behind on a nationally-televised debate stage if he has nothing substantial to offer. Despite the media hype, Buttigieg is a totally unproven commodity on the big stage. He received a mere 8,515 votes when he was re-elected as South Bend mayor in 2015; he must now convince tens of millions of Americans that this somehow qualifies him for the presidency. Just staying in place is not enough. If Buttigieg does not make a solid first impression with these voters, he loses this debate.
The remaining candidates are largely unaffected by their assigned positions. The lesser-knowns need to get their time and make a splash without resorting to gratuitous, attention-seeking stunts. Look for the undisciplined Swalwell, who has been running the most ridiculous campaign other than Gillibrand up to this point, to totally ignore this piece of advice.
Punches will be thrown and minor triumphs will be scored. The candidates who win round one will be those who can compellingly explain why, amid such an oversized field, their campaigns matter. Those who lazily try to win the progressive purity game will only see themselves stumble. Based on what we’ve been subjected to so far, expect a lot of pratfalls on your television set.
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