The CNN Democratic debate will not feature Donald Trump, which means that the debate will actually be about politics and policies. Here are five things that you should keep an eye on as you watch tonight’s debate.
1). Democrats: The Civil Party –
Unlike the free for all that has been the Republican presidential debates, Democrats have run a very low-key primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders brings energy and enthusiasm, but his campaign is focused on the issues. Hillary Clinton is running a primary campaign that never loses sight of November 2016. One gets the impression that for Clinton, the Democratic primary is a warm up. Her campaign always has one eye on today, and the other on the general election.
The Democratic debate won’t feature personal attacks and bitter criticism from the two frontrunners. Democrats should hold a mostly civil debate tonight. Each side’s supporters will claim that their candidate won, and it will be possible for both Clinton and Sanders to achieve their objectives tonight.
Bernie Sanders wants to introduce himself to the national audience and continue to build his political revolution. Hillary Clinton will look to maintain the positive momentum of the last few weeks. It could be a win-win night, but don’t expect the top two to channel Donald Trump and sling the kind of mud that cable news loves to see.
2). Hillary Clinton’s Move To The Left –
Hillary Clinton has moved to the left by opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and the TPP, and according to the polling over the last few weeks, it has worked. Clinton’s favorable numbers are up. She has increased her lead nationally and in Iowa and now leads in three of the first four primary states.
The question for tonight’s debate is will she continue to move left, or will the Clinton centrism come out again? Hillary Clinton has to walk a fine line between appealing to voters in a party that is moving left and looking electable for the general election. How she juggles these goals will determine the strength of her performance tonight.
3). Bernie Sanders: Two Hours Of Fire And Brimstone –
Sen. Sanders has won millions of supporters and admirers by being a pure version of the left’s ideology, but how will he hold up over a long two-hour debate. Sen. Sanders brings energy and passion, but he is going to have to condense that energy to fit a short answer debate format.
Bernie Sanders is best on the stump where he constructs tidal waves of passion and argument and takes huge crowds with him on a voyage through his vision of America. The national debate format will be much more restrictive. Can Sen. Sanders introduce himself and his vision for the country in thirty-second clips?
4).Martin O’Malley’s First Last Gasp –
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has spent years crafting his run for the Democratic nomination. He expected that he would be Hillary Clinton’s primary challenger. For some reason, O’Malley never saw Bernie Sanders and his millions of supporters coming. From the moment that Sen. Sanders entered the race, he has made O’Malley increasingly irrelevant. Gov. O’Malley can’t break 5% in any poll, and the debate represents his first chance to get noticed by Democratic voters.
O’Malley has tried to attack both Clinton and Sanders with no success. The Democratic frontrunners have stayed focused on the issues, for the most part, which has left O’Malley on the outside trying to push his way in. Will O’Malley try to get national attention by attacking Clinton, Sanders, or both?
Martin O’Malley needs to do something change the dynamic of what has become a two-person Democratic contest. If he is invisible on the debate stage, he might as well pack it up and go home.
5). Who Will Take On The Republicans?
Democratic voters are looking for a candidate who will maintain President Obama’s policies while doing battle with an ever hostile Republican Party. Democrats aren’t looking for a candidate who promises to compromise with the GOP. Democratic voters want a fighter, and the success of each candidate’s debate performance can be measured by how convincing they are at delivering the message that they are the candidate to take on Republicans.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign turned around after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave her the gift of admitting that the Benghazi Select Committee was really a partisan attack on her candidacy. However, Bernie Sanders has the reputation and the rhetoric of a political fighter.
The race for the Democratic nomination may turn on who the voters trust more to uphold, defend, and expand the Obama legacy.
The CNN Democratic debate should be a great deal of fun because after months of waiting Democrats will finally get to see their top candidates side by side on the debate stage.
**Not mentioned: Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb whose presidential campaigns are virtually inactive. Chaffee and Webb are at the CNN debate as stage fillers.