With 20 candidates qualifying for the first debates over two consecutive nights in Miami later this month, the Democratic National Committee decided to use a “lottery” process to divide the qualifiers into two ten candidate groups. The idea was to avoid a “varsity and junior varsity” division where the top candidates debate each other and the lesser-known candidates are relegated to the “kids table.” But despite the DNC’s hopes to sprinkle the top polling candidates into both pools, the process has four of the top five in the second-night event while only one will be appearing on the first night.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are four of the highest polling candidates at this point…and all will face off with six other contenders on the second night of the debates. The fifth, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), will appear on the first night.
The second night of debates will also include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and spiritualist Marianne Williamson.
Joining Warren in the first round will be Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Washington Governor Jay Inslee, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), former Congressman John Delaney (MD) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
NBC is hosting the event as a media partner with the DNC. Three of the announced candidates for President failed to qualify for the debate but may have an opportunity to make it into the next debates that will be held in Detroit in late July.
Tennessee Star Political editor Steve Gill says that both nights should produce plenty of fireworks, with lesser-known candidates wanting to show that they can handle their own against the so-called front runners. “Biden and Sanders will definitely come out hammering at each other, but don’t be surprised if one of the others pulls a rhetorical equivalent of a professional wrestler jumping into the ring swinging a folding chair. They will all be fighting for that six-second sound-bite that will define the debate for the media.”
“While Warren may be polling in the lead pack, there are plenty of stragglers who are strong communicators in her group on the first night, and she will be the one they will all be targeting. Each of them will be working to drag her down as they seek to be in the top tier by the next debate,” Gill adds. “The biggest challenge for all of them, on both nights, is to be aggressive and on the offensive without coming off as unlikeable, shrill or reactive. Most voters will form their first impressions of these candidates, and those are generally the most long-lasting.”
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Photos of “Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.