At long last, we know not just who will be in the first two 2020 Democratic presidential debates but also who will be matched up against one another.
NBC News on Friday announced that the lineup for the June 26 and June 27 debates on MSNBC will look like this:
Wednesday, June 26:
- Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
- Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.)
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)
- Former congressman John Delaney (Md.)
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
- Former HUD secretary Julián Castro
- Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio)
- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Thursday, June 27:
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
- Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.)
- Former vice president Joe Biden
- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.)
- Author Marianne Williamson
- Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.)
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)
- Businessman Andrew Yang
- Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper
Here are a few early takeaways and key matchups I’m looking forward to:
1. Biden vs. Sanders — but also Warren with a huge platform
The biggest takeaway is obviously that the two leading candidates in most polls — Biden and Sanders — will be featured on that same night. That’s also interesting because Sanders has telegraphed more of a desire to take on Biden directly than most of the other top candidates. Both men possibly see the other as their biggest obstacle to the Democratic nomination, and the interplay between the two will be the early focus.
But also consider what this means for Warren. She has been rising in the polls more than anybody, and now she can be the focal point of the debate on June 26. If we lump her in with Biden and Sanders in the top tier, the middle-tier candidates in her debate also seem less likely to go after her. Booker has always focused on running positive campaigns, and Klobuchar is hardly a brawler. (Remember that other Minnesotan who tried to turn into an attack dog at a debate? Yeah.)
Looking at the first night’s field, I’m wondering who might possibly steal the spotlight and who might possibly try to lay a glove on Warren. The best I can come up with for the latter would be O’Rourke or Delaney.
2. Bad news for a few second-nighters
Given the above story line, it could be hard for other candidates to get much notice on Night No. 2. That seems especially disappointing for someone such as Gillibrand, who has struggled to get anything amounting to a foothold in the race. I’d say the same for Bennet, though expectations for him have been lower than they were for Gillibrand.
The onus will also be on Harris to make herself a part of the debate. She’d probably prefer to appear the night before, but she could also have an opportunity to stealthily make an impression while Biden and Sanders are focused on one another.
Buttigieg might also have preferred to be on the other night, but he has shown no real problem earning media attention, so he isn’t relying upon this as much as the others.
3. Hickenlooper as Sanders’s foil
Expectations aren’t high for Hickenlooper, but he has, of late, been perhaps the biggest critic of Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism. Now Hickenlooper will get to be on a debate stage with Sanders.
Hickenlooper this week gave a speech in Washington saying that Sanders’s goal was “to make the United States of America a democratic socialist country. The urgency now is even greater than before: Democrats must say loudly and clearly that we are not socialists. If we do not, we will end up reelecting the worst president in our country’s history.”
4. The two-night format
All of the above is subject to this unknown: Does holding the debates on consecutive nights diminish either?
When Republicans did this, they put the candidates who were lower in the polls all in a debate the same night as the main event — the so-called kiddie table debate. That was a recipe for a forgettable forum.
Though both debates have big names, will the first one be forgotten quickly as we focus on the latter? Will both have a chance to make equal impressions? Will there be other big news on either day? We’re in some uncharted territory here, in which your opponents matter, but so, too, could the order of the debates.