Ten of the 20 Democrats running for president in 2020 will take the stage in Detroit in the second debate Tuesday night, a crucial moment for lower-tier candidates who need attention, donors and momentum to sustain a national campaign.
The debate being broadcast on CNN, the first of two consecutive nights, features Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and self-help author Marianne Williamson.
Each candidate will have one minute for an opening and a closing statement. Moderators from CNN will pose questions and give candidates one minute to answer. If a candidate is attacked by name, they will get 30 seconds to respond. Candidates who consistently interrupt others will lose time to speak.
In Florida, as is the case nationally, all the candidates on stage Tuesday are chasing former Vice President Joe Biden, who remains the front runner in the race. The most recent poll gauging support in the Sunshine State — which will be a crucial 2020 battleground — found that Biden held a commanding lead, 41 percent to 14 percent, over Sanders, the next highest in the poll. Warren and Buttigeig followed in third and fourth with 12 and 8 percent support, according to a Quinnipiac poll released in mid-June.
While Sanders and Warren will be the two leading candidates on stage Tuesday, it’s not clear if either will find it useful to attack the other. They have general agreement on major policy issues like Medicare for All and their bases of support are different. Sanders remains popular with white voters without a college degree while Warren gets more support from white voters with a college education.
“Tonight isn’t going to be the night where he feels like he needs to draw a contrast with Elizabeth Warren,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told reporters on Tuesday.
For Buttigieg and O’Rourke, this debate could be a make-or-break moment. O’Rourke, who garnered national attention during his failed U.S. Senate bid last year, has flat-lined in the polls in recent weeks after a lackluster debate performance in Miami last month. He could try to score points with voters by attacking Warren and Sanders for their left-leaning policy positions on issues like immigration, or go after Buttigieg, whose rise in the polls came around the same time that O’Rourke’s support began to tail off.
Buttigieg has some momentum coming into the debate. He was the leading fundraiser among all Democratic candidates in the last three months. But he hasn’t been able to get support from non-white voters, who are important in early states like South Carolina. He could attempt to expand his base of support on Tuesday night.
Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and O’Rourke are the only four candidates on stage Tuesday who have qualified for the next debate in September, so the other six will look to engineer a moment that helps propel their campaigns into the fall. Candidates must receive at least 130,000 unique donors and win at least 2 percent support in four separate polls to qualify for September’s debate in Houston.
The other leading candidates, Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris, are among the 10 set to debate on Wednesday. It’s possible that one or two of the candidates on Tuesday could attack Biden — though he won’t be on stage with them — because he continues to lead in the polls and is more moderate than the other leading candidates.