Committee member Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma., questions witnesses during a Senate Specials Committee on Aging hearing on drastic price hikes by Valeant and a handful of other drugmakers that have stoked outrage from patients, physicians and politicians nationwide, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2016,. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Tonight, starting at 9 pm ET, the first Democratic candidate debate begins.
Because the field is now up to 24 candidates and many of them have met the Democratic National Committee’s requirements for making the stage, the first debate is actually a two-night affair. Tonight, you’ll see 10 candidates – Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee, and Bill de Blasio.
The DNC has given exclusive broadcast rights to NBC News, so you’ll only be able to see it on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. It will be roughly two agonizing hours long, so I suggest you grab an adult beverage and settle in. Alternatively, you can be the real winner of the debate by doing literally anything else. It’s my job to torture myself for you, and that is a responsibility I take very seriously.
With all of that said my friends, here’s what we’re expecting to see tonight.
The two big names to watch for tonight are Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker. It’s their’s to lose (particularly in the case of Warren), while the other eight have to figure out the best way to come out on top. And, to be frank, it’s a steep climb.
What’s interesting about tonight’s debate is that Warren will not be on stage with Joe Biden. The media has been pumping up Warren in trying to make her campaign a thing while also trying to take out Biden. Warren has been receiving a lot of profiles recently – the most recent from the New York Times in a piece called “How Elizabeth Warren Learned To Fight.”
It was 1962 in Oklahoma City and Liz Herring, a new student at Northwest Classen High School, was feeling insecure. She was good at school, had skipped a grade, and now, as a skinny freshman with glasses and crooked teeth who had grown up in a town south of the capital, she was hungry to fit in.
She joined the Cygnet Pep Club to show her school spirit and the Courtesy Club to help visitors find their way around the school. She became a member of the Announcers Club, reading messages over the school’s central sound system. But it was the debate club where she really found herself. At a time when Home Ec and preparing for marriage were priorities for young women, debate was a place where they could compete on equal ground.
She loved learning about the big topics of the day — Medicare, unions, nuclear disarmament. She began carrying around a large metal box with hundreds of index cards with quotes and facts written on them.
Booker, meanwhile, has received a more recent piece in the Times, though it questions if he is “too nice.”
Yet even as he voiced this indictment of Mr. Biden, he softened it on the front and back end.
“I love the guy,” he said after recounting what he said was a very positive telephone conversation with Mr. Biden last week.
And after laying out his bill of particulars, Mr. Booker was quick to add of the former vice president: “Doesn’t mean we don’t love and respect him.”
His supporters have tried to put the best face on his early difficulties, but they recognize that he must use the debate Wednesday and then the one in July to stand out from the field.
“It’s not as great as I would have hoped at this point, and I’m sure that Cory feels the same way,” said Tracy Higgins, a Booker donor based in New Jersey who is planning to host a fund-raiser for him this fall. “But it’s tough with so many candidates, and I think that for Cory, he’s not yet really been able to make his more specific case about ‘why him.’ The debate can certainly present that opportunity.”
It is their media coverage in particular that gives them the edge.
Warren, despite the dreadful mishap with her Native American heritage, is still a deeply progressive candidate and one that many people in media see as the best avenue to beat President Donald Trump. She is every bit the progressive Bernie Sanders is while still being an actual Democrat and also a woman – a trait that pays off in the Democrats’ strategy of using identity as a major selling point.
Booker, meanwhile, received a ton of extra media coverage with Joe Biden’s recent segregationist gaffe (as referenced in the above Times story). If Warren’s gender identity is a plus for her, then Booker’s racial identity is just as much in play, and it’s one he’s going to use.
Tulsi Gabbard, meanwhile, was making plays for the moderate (doing so with less name recognition than Biden has). Jay Inslee seeing climate change in every issue. Amy Klobuchar, another woman, also has to contend with bad press over her treatment of staff. Bill de Blasio has treated the media in frankly the same way Donald Trump treats them and his coverage reflects that. Castro, Delaney, and Ryan are registering very little outside of their core fan base.
That leaves Beto O’Rourke, the only other outlier here who could do some damage if he wanted to. He is young, attractive, and has natural charisma. But, his numbers have tanked in recent months, and the very traits that made him so appealing to national media while he was running for the U.S. Senate in Texas made him a target of the same media when he announced his bid for President. If anyone has an image to reshape in tonight’s debate, it’s him.
Of course, it’s impossible to tell how this will go before the debate even starts, but right now, it’s Warren’s and, to a lesser extent, Booker’s to lose and O’Rourke has the best chance of surprising the audience.
The rest? Well, as we say in the south… bless their hearts.