Rubio dominated debate marred by loss of moderator control

GOPBY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Ben Carson shrank, Donald Trump was a non-entity, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio fought for who would have the next biggest news of the night – the biggest news being the terrible job of the moderators and expert panelists at the CNBC Republican Debate in Colorado.

“The loser Tuesday night – by far – was CNBC’s panel,” said Dane Strother a Washington-based Democratic strategist. “When carnival barker (Jim) Cramer showed up as a fourth ring of the circus, credibility was completely lost.”

The hosts lost control of the debate early and often, he said. The panelists’ questions became fodder for the candidates’ scorn.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz scored points and garnered needed attention when he criticized the CNBC team for attempting to instigate fights among the candidates, calling it media bias against Republicans (a popular line with GOP voters that worked so well for Newt Gingrich in 2012 during the South Carolina primary that he won the state, breaking a long standing rule that whoever wins South Carolina wins the nomination).

“How about talking about the substantive issues?” Cruz asked. “Nobody believes the moderator will vote in the Republican primary. It shouldn’t be about tearing into each other.”

Tear into each other, they did – of course – but the moderators were most-gored.

“Any time a candidate can attack the (main stream media), the candidate wins, and there were a lot of opportunities for that,” said Chip Felkel a Republican strategist in South Carolina. “The big loser of tonight’s debate was CNBC and their credibility to run another debate. Poorly managed, with some bizarre questions and ridiculous assertions,” he said.

For most of the two-hour event, Trump and Carson faded into the wallpaper.

“Carson and Trump did not have stellar performances, and maybe they did not have to,” said Felkel. “In fact, less time might have benefited them both.”

Although Carson and Trump lead in national polls, each performs poorly when pressed on policy details.

It was clearly Marco Rubio’s night to shine, with his one-time friend and mentor Jeb Bush attempting – and failing – to take him down.

Bush went for the jugular when he criticized Rubio’s voting record in the Senate; he missed his target.

“Marco, when you signed up for (the Senate), this was a 6-year term, and you should be showing up for work… You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job,” said Bush, echoing a recent editorial from the Sounth Florida Sun Sentinel.

Rubio would have none of it, saying, “The only reason you’re doing it is that we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you.”

The freshman senator from Floria was poised, calm, confident and witty throughout the debate. More importantly, he was unflappable – a crucial asset when one is the ascendant during this fluid portion of the nominating process.

“Marco Rubio had a big night,” said Bruce Haynes, Washington-based media consultant at Purple Strategies. “He took Jeb Bush’s best shot, and his counter punch was a debilitating blow that made Jeb Bush look small.”

Felkel said Rubio showed an impressive ability to weave his personal history into just about every answer when he might have been on the defensive. “He knew he was going to be attacked, and he came prepared,” Felkel said.

“Rubio ensured he would remain ahead of Bush by slapping him down when challenged over the Sentinel editorial calling for his resignation,” said Strother. “Bush was a fool for stepping into the trap because Rubio practiced that answer more than any other,” he said.

Ohio Governor John Kasich had his best night by far, said Strothers. “He came out swinging, then lost steam, then came back a bit,” he said, adding that Kasich did a great job of using the Ohio success as his platform.

“Bush speaks of what he did long ago, and Kasich has a current and by extension more relevant story to push,” said Strothers.

Three months before any primary vote is cast, the Republican field remains fluid – with outsiders Trump and Carson gaining the early lead in the process, but showing weakness in sustaining it.

Both Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie had solid moments, with Fiorina stealing the show literally by having the most speaking time of all of the candidates.

“Christie was succinct and plays the prosecutor,” said Strothers. “He had a score in shooting down oversight of fantasy football.”

The large GOP field contrasts with the Democrats, where only three candidates remain: frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Partisan budget priorities reflect PA citizens’ priorities

by MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

When it comes to sorting out the politics behind Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget impasse, a little data can go a long way.

A new poll from Robert Morris University found more Democrats than Republicans place a priority on education spending and a severance tax on natural gas, while Republicans place a higher premium on property taxes and a balanced state budget.

Voters, the data suggest, have the same budgeting priorities as their political counterparts in Harrisburg.

The divide among parties can be wide: RMU found 57 percent of Republicans say property taxes are a major issue, compared to 41 percent of Democrats. Almost 51 percent of Republicans said a balanced budget was a priority, compared to almost 40 percent of Democrats.

Republicans sent a budget to Gov. Tom Wolf by the June 30 deadline, but the first-year Democrat vetoed the plan as it did not include the spending priorities he outlined in March, including – you guessed it – education spending increases and a severance tax on shale gas.

The impasse continues even as the state continues to spend billions of state and federal dollars.

Voters, for their part, are noticing the effects – RMU found that about 27 percent of Pennsylvanians said they or someone they know is affected by the lack of a state budget.

“Interestingly, for those who are affected by the budget situation or know people who are, Gov. Wolf has a 52.4 percent favorable rating — compared to 49.3 percent of respondents,” said Philip Harold, a political science professor at RMU who analyzed the results.

Pennsylvania GOP provokes Twitter spat over campaign finances in Senate race

reschenthaler-arnet

BY AARON AUPPERLEE  aaupperlee@tribweb.com

The first round of campaign finance reports in the race to replace Matt Smith in Pennsylvania’s 37th District Senate seat are due today.

Republican Guy Reschenthaler, a former district judge, and Democrat Heather Arnet, former head of the Women and Girls Foundation, are locked in a heated campaign with television ads that turned nasty quick.

The two have attracted the attention of bigwigs from both parties. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio posed for a photo with Reschenthaler during a fundraiser in Pittsburgh last week. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in town the day before to endorse Arnet.

Their special election is the same day as the general election (Nov. 3), and the winner gets one year in Harrisburg.

So far, late contribution reports have shown up on the Department of State’s website, but they are already creating a stir.

A filing from Arnet’s committee, Heather for Harrisburg, shows a $40,000 contribution on Oct. 20 from Rebuild PA, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s political action committee. State Republicans pounced on the filing, tweeting at Arnet demanding that she take a stance on Wolf’s tax proposals.

Arnet responded, kind of, tweeting that she is not in favor of the GOP’s tax plan.

But the GOP kept pushing

The two will debate Wednesday at Robert Morris University.

The awkward politics of judicial elections

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

The three Democrats vying for one of Pennsylvania’s three open Supreme Court seats were all on the same page Tuesday night: they had no hand in television ads attacking their Republican opponents.

Christine Donohue said voters deserve to have information about the candidates, not “debasing kinds of advertising.” She mentioned she has all of her opinions on her website, so people can read about her positions.

David Wecht blamed the whole thing on Citizens United: “Saying you’re against it is like saying you’re against the weather, it’s a fact of life,” but Wecht also noted the first ads came from an independent expenditure group, not an organized arm of the Democratic Party.

Kevin Dougherty said he hadn’t seen the ads, but all the candidates themselves, he said, have acted in a dignified manner.

“Dignity and respect of the court is what matters,” Dougherty said.

The comments came after a forum in Pittsburgh Tuesday night; the Republican candidates did not participate.

Last week Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, a group funded mainly by plaintiff trial lawyers, released short spots targeted at each of the Republican candidates – and purchased contracts for $56,320 worth of air time.

The Republican State Leadership Conference returned the salvo on Tuesday with an ad targeting Dougherty, and then the state Republican Party launched a website attacking the records of all three Democrats and showing their connections to interest groups.

Despite a call from Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to denounce the initial round of attack ads, none of the Democrats at Tuesday’s forum did so formally, though they distanced themselves from those who made them.

Even good ethics – a hallmark platform in this campaign – does not necessarily remove a judicial candidate from party politics.

While answering a question about redistricting, Dougherty underscored what it could mean for Democrats if the court leans left by 2020. That year, the Supreme Court will have the fifth appointee to the next redistricting commission, as well as the final say on approving the maps that are considered among the most gerrymandered in the country.

“When you elect Donohue, Dougherty and Wecht, politicians will not select the people,” he said. “People will select the politicians.”

These candidates may not want to get into the mud with their opponents, but that does not mean they aren’t partisans – at least on some level.

(In a stroke of perfect timing for a parenthetical, a state House committee on Tuesday moved ahead a plan to begin merit selection of judges, which would eradicate these concerns in future years.)

Hero’s journey not easy in American politics

jimWebb3BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Former Virginia U.S. Senator Jim Webb ended his Democratic campaign for president Tuesday, but he left the door open to a possible run as an independent.

“I honestly believe if we ran against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the party nominees, I would win,” said Webb.

Webb, an ex-Secretary of the Navy and former Vietnam War Marine Combat Veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts, criticized both parties for leaving no room for the center.

During a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Webb said there was no pathway for him in the 2016 Democratic field: “I fully accept that my views on many issues are not compatible with the power structure and base of the Democratic Party.”

johnglennHis press conference was a striking reminder of another American hero who ran for president in 1984 but never gained traction in the primary process: John Glenn, former U.S. Senator from Ohio, who as a Marine served in both World War II and Korea before becoming the first man to orbit the earth in space.

Glenn withdrew from the 1984 Democratic race in March of 1984 after coming in second to eventual nominee Walter Mondale in a string of primary races.

Glenn’s old fashioned style of appealing to Main Street Democratic primary voters was trumped by Mondale’s promise to be a champion for women and minorities.

Like Glenn, Webb’s problem was always that primaries on each side tend to skew hard to the left and right wings of party positions. With no money to travel, it’s almost impossible for a moderate to gain traction.

Glenn went into debt to get to the primaries; Webb dropped out.

“How I remain as a voice will depend on the kind of support I’m shown… I’m not going away; I’m thinking about all my options,” Webb said.

The money problem doesn’t go away for third party candidates; it simply joins a bigger problem: getting on the ballot. That’s not to mention the problem of a third party candidate getting elected.TR-SQUARE-DEAL

The last time a third party won more delegates in the electoral college than the Republican or Democrat was in 1912. The candidate was Teddy Roosevelt running under the Bull Moose banner, and he ‘cost’ William Howard Taft re-election and handed Woodrow Wilson the presidency.

Wilson, by the way, won the Democratic Party nomination after 46 ballots at the convention – so the next time you think we are in the worst time ever, read your history.

Moody’s downgrades PA bond outlook

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

This went down late last week, but it does bear extra attention now that there’s officially frost showing up without a state budget in place.

Moody’s last week lowered Pennsylvania’s bond outlook to negative, a rating that could lead to higher interest rates on the state’s borrowing down the road.

Illinois – not a state known for financial wherewithal – is one state dealing with that, too.

Moody’s affirmed the below-average Aa3 rating on Pennsylvania’s existing $10.9 billion General Obligation debt, and moved the outlook down to negative.

Why the change?

From Moody’s: “The negative outlook reflects the difficulty the commonwealth is likely to have closing its structural budget gap in light of the contentious political environment.”

Simply put, there’s no budget to speak of and no end in sight to the partisan bickering.

How can the state turn that rating around? Three easy steps, according to Moody’s: 1) Bring in new revenues/cut spending to close the budget gap; 2) Make progress on pension funding levels; 3) Tango with Lady Luck in the economic growth department and get faster-than-expected growth rates.

On the other hand, more difficulties could befall the state’s bond situation if the state’s finances somehow worsen or seem highly unlikely to improve – or if the state (once again, we might add) cuts short its pension obligations.

100+ days and counting… the Senate and House are in session this week, and Gov. Tom Wolf is hosting a pair of press conferences in the western part of the state. Coming to agreement on a state spending plan is an enigma, but at this point, the financial consequences are not.

What’s in a wig? Pennsylvania Republicans lampoon Trump

RoddeyBY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Jim Roddey, the county chairman of Pittsburgh area Republicans planned his entrance for a week.

Roddey giggled when he rose from his front row seat in the packed ballroom at Pittsburgh’s William Penn Hotel and stepped behind the royal blue curtains Friday morning.

Seconds later, he emerged with an unruly wig, a swagger and accent spoofing Donald Trump, the entertainer turned contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

“I have two secrets to tell you,” said Roddey with a flawless Trump cadence and facial expressions. “First I am rich. I mean I am really, really rich. YUGELY rich,” he said to the crowd of 620 businessmen, women, judges, and elected officials.

The audience responded, roaring with laughter.

“I have a plan, a big plan, YUGE. We are going to build a wall around Cleveland and then make them pay for it,” Roddey said, referring to the legendary NFL rivalry between hometown Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.

This was no local party pantomime: it was the main Western Pennsylvania GOP fundraiser for the state House, and it set a record for the amount raised.

GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio was the keynote speaker.

Roddey’s schtick is an example of Pennsylvania Republicans’ willingness to lampoon their party’s presidential front-runner.

It’s an interesting yet predictable reaction as more and more people become wary that Trump’s candidacy will never end and the joke will become the Republican Party brand.

The audience reaction Friday supports the latest Public Policy Polling report that shows Trump is beginning to cede ground in Pennsylvania to his rivals. While Trump still leads the GOP field with 24%, physician Ben Carson is at 23%, followed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina at 9% each.

Trump still has the lead, but it is the smallest lead he’s had since one month after announcing.

Rubio, who earned the endorsement of Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai during the Pittsburgh event, currently only has 6% of voters’ support, but he would beat Trump in a head-to-head in PA, 45-44, according to the poll.

Outside groups now spending in PA court race

Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto, left, state Superior Court Judge David Wecht, center, and state Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue greet each other after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court debate, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, Pa. On Nov. 3, 2015, voters will fill three vacancies on the seven-member state Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Read more: http://triblive.com/state/pennsylvania/9228415-74/court-candidates-judge#ixzz3okqKOMkp Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook
Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto, left, state Superior Court Judge David Wecht, center, and state Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue greet each other after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court debate, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, Pa.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

An onslaught of ads promoting Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidates are hitting television screens across the commonwealth – including the first  purchased by an outside spending group.

Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, a group funded mainly by plaintiff trial lawyers, purchased contracts for $56,320 worth of air time at three television stations, according to records tracked by judicial advocacy groups Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

The ads attack the records of the three Republican candidates.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said all Supreme Court candidates should denounce the ads and ask Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform to remove them.

She emphasized that it is crucial to elect qualified, fair and impartial justices.

“Negative ads like these serve no purpose other than to discourage voters from seriously evaluating judicial candidates by using scare tactics such as selective editing and ominous voice overs,” Marks said in an email.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice tallied FCC records to show that the attack ads – combined with ads booked by the three Democrats themselves, Judges Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David N. Wecht – total $862,630 in television ad airtime spending in advance of the Nov. 3 general election.

Wecht has booked the most: $376,905 in airtime for ads ending Oct. 19.

No ads so far are booked for Republicans Anne Covey, Michael A. George, and Judith Olson, or Judge Paul Panepinto, an Independent candidate.

But just a couple of hours after the Justice at Stake/Brennan Center release went out, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason blasted out a fundraising email to supporters looking to counter the Democrats’ buys.

“Liberal special interests — led by Philadelphia trial lawyers and union bosses — just launched a massive wave of attack ads filled with lies against our Supreme Court candidates,” read Gleason’s message. “Stop the liberal special interests from buying this election!”

Given that Gleason is referring to the Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform ad, it’s perhaps a matter of perspective whether $56K counts as massive – maybe there’s more to come.

But the desire for the party to raise funds off outside groups shows how competitive this race could get in its final weeks. Buying up airtime is basically the most efficient way for candidates to get their names out there. Off-year elections typically see lower turnout, and some experts say judicial races come down to factors like geography or name recognition.

Candidates and parties are looking for other ways to inject some star power into their race – just this week, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a presser in Pittsburgh to endorse the three Democrats.

The party underscored the importance of electing Democrat,s given the Supreme Court’s role in approving redistricting maps, which were last approved by a Republican-leaning court.

For more on the court race, here’s coverage from a debate at Widener Law this week, likely to be the only forum with all seven candidates present.

Less than three weeks to go!

Debate: Clinton shines because all the other stones are dull

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Bernie Sanders won a moral victory, Hillary Clinton won on points, but the real winner of the Democrats’ first debate was Joe Biden, said Bruce Haynes, media strategist at Purple Strategies in Washington.

Clinton confidently took to the stage last night in Las Vegas with rivals Sanders, a Vermont socialist U.S. Senator, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chaffee, former governors of Maryland and Rhode Island respectively, and former Virginia U.S. Senator Jim Webb.

“Clinton managed her way nicely through a field of lesser candidates,” said Haynes. “She showed passion at times and a greater depth on the issues than her opponents.”

But the main thing you felt watching this debate was that Hillary needs an actual opponent.

“The Democratic party needs Joe Biden in this race – not because he would win, although he might, but because Clinton needs a real challenge,” said Haynes.

Throughout the debate Clinton transmitted through her poise and moderate answers that she would not be challenged by the four men on stage and that she was making her argument for her general election Republican opponent. In short, she had no competition on the stage that would challenge her – great for the moment, but bad for the long game and bad for the Democrat Party as a whole.

Her only stumbles were her answers on the most important foreign policy issues facing the country right now (she stuttered a lot) and on what separated her from Obama (she answered that it was “obviously” her gender).

Webb spent more time making the point that he was not getting fair air time than actually making a point. Chaffee compared himself to a block of granite and excused one of his votes by claiming he’d only been in the senate a short time. O’Malley spent a lot of time talking about how much the N.R.A. hates him.

Clinton shined because all of the other stones were dull.

“The nomination of your party is something you should have to compete for, not just collect,” said Haynes. “It would be good for the Democrats and good for America if Biden would get in the game and be that competition.”

Haynes said Martin O’Malley was the loser: “He had one job: find a way to stand out.  Instead, he mistakenly thought this debate was about telling his uninspiring story – over and over and over.”

Thanks for stopping by the booth Governor. We have a lovely parting gift for you on your way back to Baltimore.

At one point Sanders gave Clinton a solid by saying even he was sick and tired of the email questions, while Clinton continued the tack her surrogates had taken on social media, blaming the email scandal on the Republican witch hunters.

 The underreported story of this debate is going to be that socialism stood as an essentially uncontested and acceptable idea for the night.

Tension and uncertainty in Las Vegas before Democratic debate

“A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” – Hunter S. Thompson

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

It’s show time (again) folks: this time the debate is among Democrats, and it’s being held in Vegas; the city of gambling, showgirls, lounge acts, aging musicians and all around sin.

Hosted by CNN and Facebook, the first debate for the Democrats will have five candidates on the stage: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb.

“Viewership for the first two GOP debates was an anomaly in a highly unusual Republican nomination cycle. While I won’t predict ratings for this debate, we expect the audience to be significantly smaller,” said CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist pre-gaming the ratings let down (in comparison to the Republican debate).

CNN enjoyed 23 million viewers last month when they hosted the Republicans at the Ronald Reagan Library in California; Fox News had 24 million viewers a few weeks earlier at the first GOP debate in Cleveland.

The Democratic debate also has the unfortunate timing of running at the same time as two Major League baseball games (Cardinals v Cubs and Mets v Dodgers).

It also does not have Donald – as in Donald Trump, the entertainer turned presidential candidate currently leading in the polls over GOP rivals.

The Democratic debate may or may not have Vice President Joe Biden. CNN has left the door open for him should he declare before the moderator lobs out the first question. CNN has even tweeted photos of the extra podium for Biden.

Whether or not he jumps into the race, Biden’s presence will be felt.

Iowa State political science professor Steffen Schmidt went wild with the thought of that happening, saying, “nothing could match Vice President Joe Biden suddenly popping in on the first Democratic Debate, hugging and kissing Hillary, high fiving Bernie, and back slapping whoever the other ghosts in the debate are. NOT even Donald Trump could match that! A game changer!” 

The CNN moderator will be Anderson Cooper; anchor Don Lemon, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Español anchor Juan Carlos will be asking questions.

“I think it is going be interesting debate,” said Steve Jarding, legendary Democratic strategist and Harvard public policy professor. “On one hand  you have Hillary Clinton believing she has to be cautious, but on the other hand she knows with her dip in the polls she really has to shake things up.”

Jarding said, “I suspect she is going into this debate wondering ‘How cautious should I be? Do I remain resistant to being  pushed too far left?’ While she has to be careful, she has to also be willing to draw contrasts between herself and her rivals.”

The key to the debate and what makes it interesting, Jarding said, is that Clinton has so many different variables to deal with – not just Benghazi and questions over her use of a private email server while Secretary of State,  but what does she stand for?

“You’ve got Bernie Sanders. How does he introduce himself to America? ‘Hello, oh by the way, I am a socialist?’ He is promising voters the moon – how will answer when he explains how you pay for free college and everything else he proposes?” asked Jarding.

The three undercards are also going to be a bit of unknown territory, said Jarding: “If I had to guess, I don’t see Chaffee going crazy and I suspect O’Malley is going to try to make a name for himself – but how?”

Webb becomes the wild card, or does he?  Does he go after Hillary?

“The bottom line is at the end of the debate we’ll probably see everyone walk this weird tightrope, and I don’t think voters will be an inch further than they were when the debate started,” said Jarding.

“I don’t have great expectations either way,” he said.

Here are the players:

Hillary Clinton:

After months of nonstop stories, apologies, and unintentional self destruction centered on her private email server and the consequences of that unfolding story (dropping poll numbers, the very real threat of Vice President Joe Biden jumping in and a loss of public trust), Hillary Clinton can finally get out from under running against herself and run against her rivals in a public setting.

Her issues will still be there, and all four of her rivals are looking for a moment to shine, so don’t expect Clinton to get a pass, but at least this time she’s battling real people not battling herself (to whom she loses every time).

Joe Biden

Probably not going to be physically up on that stage, but everyone there is prepared to go after him if he is, and to praise him if he’s not. It’s tricky line to navigate because attacking Biden attacks President Barack Obama, who is still wildly popular with the Democratic base.

Bernie Sanders

Feel the burn. Or something like that. Bernie Sanders, the socialist (small s) from Vermont who is drawing YUGE crowds in the early primary states and beyond, is pulling his competitor Clinton probably further left than she’d like – and it all hinges on a populist current running through both political parties right now. Cranky, blunt, and temperamental, Sanders makes the last Vermont Democrat who ran for president, Howard Dean, look like a soft spoken pussycat. This is the insurgent candidate’s national debut, and while he won’t draw the numbers Trump the GOP insurgent does, he is similarly the wild card on the stage.

Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee

Of the three, O’Malley has invested the most personal time, professional staff and energy into emerging as “that guy” who could emerge as an alternative to Clinton. In an interview with the Trib on the day he announced, O’Malley talked about his connection to the regular guy and his executive experience as part of the many contrasts distinguishing him from the other candidates, especially Clinton.

He also has advocated strongly for more than the handful of debates scheduled by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, charging in another interview with the Tribune-Review that the small number was designed to benefit Clinton

Webb has an impressive resume: a Vietnam combat veteran who earned two purple hearts during the conflict and went on to serve as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and then held the Virginia U.S. Senate seat as a Democrat for one term. He comes to the stage with respected military experience and foreign policy street cred.

A classic moderate Democrat, Webb laid out in detail during an interview with the Tribune review his appeal in the interior of the country, but he has failed to catch fire – either because he has none or because he has been overshadowed by Sanders and Clinton.

Chafee, the former senator and governor from Rhode Island who has been a Republican, Independent and Democrat, has offered no strong reason to be in the race, other than he likes the attention.

And don’t think it’ll only be Democrats watching the show.

“All eyes will be on Hillary,” said Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the Republican National Committee. “Anything less than perfection will be a failure and further entice the Vice President into the race. She is an experienced debater standing on stage with four other people that couldn’t win a student council race, so it truly is hers to lose.”