Democratic Debate: Will Biden and Sanders Face Off?

Mr. de Blasio surpassed low expectations during Wednesday’s debate and briefly appeared to be one of the candidates with potential political momentum.

But by Thursday evening, he was on the defensive after he used a famous quote from Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in Miami.

“Hasta la victoria siempre!” Mr. de Blasio had said, urging on striking airport workers.

He was swiftly denounced by Florida officials who were angry at him for using a quotation made famous by the 20th century guerrilla leader.

Mr. de Blasio apologized, saying he did not know the phrase’s origin.

He returned to the debate site on Thursday afternoon, where he made an apologetic appearance on CNN.

Beto O’Rourke, who began his presidential campaign as the subject of intense national interest but has struggled to gain traction in the 2020 race, didn’t generate much momentum for himself during Wednesday night’s debate. There was no breakout moment, and he left swipes from other candidates unanswered.

Will that happen to any of the 10 candidates onstage on Thursday? Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Swalwell have significant political experience yet have failed so far to stand out in a crowded field.

Mr. Buttigieg has been rising in some polls, but his record and leadership as mayor of South Bend, Ind., has also started drawing tough scrutiny; will he find ways to take full advantage of the attention tonight?

In Wednesday night’s Democratic debate, many of the most notable moments centered on policy disagreements ranging from immigration to health care to America’s role in the world. And at the center of the stage stood Elizabeth Warren, who has made a name for herself with her slew of policy proposals.

Tonight, several of the most prominent candidates onstage — including Mr. Biden, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Harris — have turned their personal stories into central elements of their campaigns Mr. Sanders, in contrast, is often loathe to talk much about his biography and has so far preferred to keep the focus on his policy prescriptions.

Which raises a question: Do the candidates tonight try to draw distinctions with each other over policy, or do they tilt more toward the personal? Do Democrats focus more on Mr. Biden’s past working relationships with segregationists in the Senate, for instance, than on the specifics of his climate change plan?

And will some of the candidates who have not emphasized policy be pushed to offer more details on their vision for the country?

It has been a huge day in Democratic politics: A loss at the Supreme Court on gerrymandering, a mixed result at the court on a new citizenship question for the census, and debilitating strife between liberals and moderates over humanitarian aid for the border.

Against this backdrop, and with Democrats searching for a 2020 presidential standard-bearer who can unify the party, Mr. Biden will take the debate stage tonight as an uncertain front-runner: He is leading in the polls and is popular with donors, but he has had stumbles in his two months as a candidate and has yet to be seriously tested in the campaign.

Tonight’s debate — his first in seven years — will be his first big hurdle.

[A matchup of four heavyweights. Here’s your guide to the political dynamics in tonight’s debate.]

How Mr. Biden will perform is one of the biggest questions of the night. For instance, he is an enthusiastic raconteur with decades of political war stories that he often draws on to highlight his government experience. But as he makes his third run for president, Mr. Biden can go on meandering tangents, sometimes interrupting himself with a “well, anyway,” or going off topic to reference lessons he learned from Senate colleagues years ago.

With limited time tonight, can he stay — crisply — on the forward-looking message he has suggested he wants to deliver?

This won’t be his first test on that front. At a presidential debate in 2007, Mr. Biden was asked about his “uncontrolled verbosity” and whether he could “reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage?

“Yes,” Mr. Biden replied, to laughter.

A decade later, his ability to connect — briefly, and with humor — will be under scrutiny.

[Julián Castro was crowned the winner on Telemundo’s first debate night.]

When Mr. Sanders ran his unexpectedly strong campaign for president in 2016, he faced just a handful of opponents, and only one who had gained traction: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr. Sanders portrayed himself as the sole liberal on the debate stage, and Mrs. Clinton as an establishment moderate; he made his political reputation even as he was ultimately defeated.

Tonight, Mr. Sanders will encounter nine opponents onstage — a day after 10 others already debated. Many of them, like Mr. Sanders, have strong progressive credentials and can lay claim to outsider status.

As he runs in a party that prizes youth and diversity, Mr. Sanders, a white male 77-year-old, will test whether his proudly democratic socialist message resonates in a race where some of his other, younger opponents have also moved left.

Mr. Sanders watched Wednesday’s debate with staff and others at his hotel, paying particular attention to its structure and format.

Aides were quick to credit Mr. Sanders with pushing many of the topics that were discussed on stage, including health care, income inequality and climate change.

“It is a remarkable moment when you have candidates reflecting the values that Bernie Sanders has carried throughout his career,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, the campaign’s chief of staff.

[We tracked down the 2020 Democrats and asked them the same set of questions. Watch them answer.]

In Wednesday night’s debate, many of the candidates struck boldly progressive notes. With the exceptions of Cory Booker, in his discussion of the Iran nuclear deal and health care, and Amy Klobuchar, on issues like private insurance, few candidates made memorable overtures to middle-of-the-road voters in the Democratic Party.

The tone tonight could tilt more moderate, despite the presence of Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist, as well as Ms. Gillibrand and Ms. Harris, two senators who have embraced many liberal policies.

Mr. Biden is betting that the Democratic electorate is far less liberal than some political operatives expect, and he constantly nods to those with more conservative viewpoints — sometimes controversially.

There are several others onstage who are also running as more pragmatic centrists — and who are eagerly looking for a moment to break out of low polling numbers — including Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Bennet. And Mr. Buttigieg, a Midwesterner, can sometimes strike a moderate tone even if his policy views tilt left.

[Which Democrats are leading the 2020 presidential race this week?]

Ms. Warren was the highest-polling candidate on the debate stage Wednesday night, and she started off the evening as a dominant presence — literally, as the recipient of the first question — and continued to be the debate’s center of gravity during the first hour.

But as the night went on, moderators spent more time on other candidates, and Ms. Warren — who did not scramble to interject in the way that some of the other contenders onstage did — ultimately spoke for nine minutes and 31 seconds, lagging behind Mr. Booker and Mr. O’Rourke.

[Who spoke the most? Who was most effective? Seven takeaways from the first debate.]

As the second debate plays out and different candidates engage each other directly — getting more airtime in the process — do any of the highest-polling contenders fade into the background like Ms. Warren did?

Hours before the debate began, a majority of justices ruled that federal courts should not hear challenges to partisan gerrymandering.

While state legislatures dominated by both political parties have long relied on gerrymandering to draw voting districts that favor one party over the other, in recent years Republicans — who have won expanded influence in state capitals around the country — have been especially associated with the practice.

The Supreme Court ruling may give some Democrats another opening to draw contrasts with the G.O.P.

Are you watching the debates? We’re eager to hear from our readers. Please tell us in the comments what you think of the candidates’ performances.

For Democrats, who did you did you support going into the debates? Has that changed? If so, tell us why.

We want to hear from Republicans, too — who has stood out to you? Did any of the candidates resonate with you or seem to pose a serious threat to President Trump’s re-election bid?

We may feature your comments in upcoming stories. Please include your name, where you live.

Reported and written by Katie Glueck, Shane Goldmacher and Sydney Ember.

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