“A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” – Hunter S. Thompson
BY SALENA ZITO firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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).
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.
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.”