Thursday night’s debate is the third of the 2020 presidential campaign, but the first in which the 10 Democratic candidates leading most public opinion polls will share a stage. Lisa Desjardins joins Amna Nawaz from Houston to discuss the different format of this debate, what’s at stake for the candidates and whether it’s the end of the campaign road for candidates who didn’t qualify.
Tonight may be the third debate for this 2020 field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, but it's the first time that the 10 leading candidates in public opinion polls are all on the stage at once.
On the ground in Houston, the site of tonight's debate, is our own Lisa Desjardins with more on how the debate is shaping up.
Lisa, talk to me. When it comes to the lineup, to the format, what should we expect to see tonight?
Well, this campus of Texas Southern University is going to see, I think, a unique debate.
First of all, let's just look at those 10 candidates leading the poll, our first time with a single debate, all of them. As you see in that lineup, there are five senators, three women, and two Texans in the debate, but I think the focus, Amna, clearly will be on the center of the stage.
This will be first time that former Vice President Joe Biden will be on stage with Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts.
And, Amna, she clearly has been gaining the most in polls in the last month. And I can tell you from talking to voters here in Houston there is a sense of excitement about her that you don't hear about Joe Biden. The Biden campaign told us today they are going to try and make the case that, while Elizabeth has many policy ideas, the key is to try to implement them.
They are going to say that he's the man to carry out those ideas. Now, one other presence here, at least above me right now, President Trump. There is an airplane — you might hear it — circling around this debate that says "Vote Trump 2020."
So he is still present here. And it's something, as the Democrats battle each other, that I think that you will also hear a lot about in this debate.
That explains what that buzzing sound is.
You talked some of about the candidates who are in the — closer to the middle of the stage. What about the candidates a little bit further out? Sometimes, these debates are the best chance for them to punch up at the other candidates, get a moment where they get known, gain some momentum.
Who needs to have a big night tonight?
Historically, we have seen in September and October before a presidential election year, that is the last chance for some kind of candidate to break out from the bottom of the pack.
And I think two to watch will be New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and also Julian Castro, the former HUD secretary and Texan. It's interesting, Castro's team told me he did a lot of precipitation specifically about changes to this debate, including longer answers the candidates will be able to give.
They will be given a full minute 15 for an answer, which is still very short, but that does change their calculations. Also, Amna, I think it's important for the middle of the pack, for Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, to show that they weren't just fads, that they can regain their momentum from the past.
But I think, most of all, this is Joe Biden's chance to try and electrify Democrats and Elizabeth Warren's chance to show how she matches up against him. And, of course, Bernie Sanders needs to regain some momentum he's lost.
So, Lisa, 10 candidates on the stage tonight. Obviously, there's many more people still running for president. If they didn't qualify for the debate stage tonight, does that mean that's the end of the road for their campaigns?
In fact, we already know that Tom Steyer, the billionaire philanthropist, has qualified for next month's debate. And I want to point out, Tulsi Gabbard, a new poll out today by Harris and No Labels places her in fourth place in New Hampshire. It's very significant.
Anecdotally, I do hear about her from voters. So, I think there are people not on the stage tonight worth watching.
That's Lisa Desjardins on the ground for us in Houston, the site of tonight's Democratic presidential primary debate.
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