In an earlier post, I suggested that the first Democratic presidential
TV debates in Miami with ten candidates on the stage for successive
nights might present a variety of scenarios depending on whom
would be in each session. We now know that a full 20 candidates will
appear (4 have been excluded), and we know who will appear on each
Since it was presumably the chance of a “lottery” which produced
the two line-ups, what might we say about them?
First, the “luck of the draw” has resulted in most of the so far
leading candidates appearing in the second-night debate, including
Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. Only
Elizabeth Warren, who also has had consistently notable poll
numbers, appears on the stage in the first debate.
The second debate is likely to draw a somewhat larger audience for
its drama of frontrunner Joe Biden defending himself against
confrontations with Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris. Although the
latter will probably focus on Biden, it will be every man or woman for
him/herself, and some side punches can be expected, not to mention
Biden’s counterpunches. Candidates Michael Bennet, Jay Inslee, John
Hickenlooper, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang
--- none of whom are known for histrionics --- will be especially
challenged to make an impression on the TV audience, but it also
presents them with an opportunity if they can somehow rise to the
In the first debate, the candidates (especially Warren) might also
make frontunners Biden and Sanders targets, but lacking the former
vice president and the Vermont senator present, it could well also
be a debate in which each of the candidates tries most to upstage the
others. Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Bill DeBlasio, Julian Castro,
Kristin Gillebrand and Amy Kobuchar each have reputations for
attention-getting --- and this will be a real test of their reputed
skills. Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, and John Delaney --- unless they offer
some surprises --- could find themselves quite overshadowed.
Wit, debating skills, stage presence and knowledge of the issues
will be factors in determining TV audience reactions. Derisive
scorn of President Trump, his policies, his twitters and calls for
his impeachment will be inevitable, but it will be interesting to see
who can do this with the most skill and originality. In fact, if most
of the candidates seem like they are just echoing each other, the
overall effect of this initial side-by-side public exposure of the
candidates to the public at large might not be what Democratic
Party leaders and strategists are hoping for.
These insiders are known to wish that the historically large field
becomes much smaller quickly --- presumably before Iowa, New
Hampshire and Super Tuesday. They know that a long and divisive
nomination battle almost certainly helps the Republican cause,
particularly in affecting the key decisions of independent and
undecided voters. But this is the 2020 cycle with its uncertainties
of so many ambitious candidates, uncontrollable social media
and an unpredictable communications specialist in the White
There are four announced candidates who will not be in the first
debate, but considering the low bar for qualifying,they have no one
to blame but themselves. At least one or two of them might try to
make it for the second debate in Detroit in July.
Meanwhile, the candidates and their advisors are furiously
strategizing and gaming the two debate sessions in Miami. There
will be surprises. Poll numbers afterwards will change. Dropouts
The 2020 cycle has begun in earnest.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman All rights reserved.