Twenty Democratic presidential candidates go head-to-head in the party’s first primary debates.
The lineup in the Democratic field is historically diverse, including six women, six people of color and a gay man. The candidates will be vying to make President Donald Trump the first one-term president since George H.W. Bush.
The Democratic candidates have been campaigning and fundraising for months. But for millions of Americans, this week’s debates will offer them an opportunity to compare and contrast the contenders.
The debates will be held Wednesday and Thursday nights in Miami and broadcast live on NBC. The televised debates are an opportunity for the candidates to differentiate themselves to voters and offer an alternative vision for America.
The key is for these Democratic contenders to offer a bold, inclusive vision for the country.
The debates will be a particular test for former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner in the polls and possibly the primary target for his fellow debaters.
Biden failed badly in his runs for president in 1988 and 2008 and has been described as a “gaffe machine.” He continues to have a poor choice of words. Last week, he recalled the “civility” of racial segregationists he worked with in the Senate. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” he said of one of them, citing a racist term and earning a well-deserved sharp rebuke from other candidates.
Congressman James Clyburn, who is African American and the majority whip in the House of Representatives, said on Friday: “It was an unforced error that hopefully he won’t make too many of. But like in any tennis match, one unforced error, even two unforced errors, would not necessarily lose the match. Biden was just talking about his ability to go outside of his comfort zone and maybe get a little bit too comfortable saying that.”
More disturbing than his gaffes has been Biden’s past anti-busing stance as a young U.S. senator in the 1970s and being a prime sponsor of the 1994 crime bill, which many crime experts believe led to mass incarceration of African Americans.
Clyburn, who has been described as the “kingmaker” in South Carolina, the first southern state to vote, said that Biden has been performing well, but he has to be “at the top of his game” in the debates.
Biden is benefiting from the fact that many Democrats believe he has the best chance to beat Trump. A recent CBS News poll found that the ability to beat Trump is the most important consideration for Democratic voters (78%), ahead of new policy ideas (40%) and changing Washington (31%). During the debates, Trump will loom large but the debates can’t only be about Trump.
In the 2018 midterm campaign, Democrats won on protecting the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. In 2020, the Democratic nominee will need to show that he or she can beat Trump and offer a clear and comprehensive agenda that addresses the need of ordinary Americans.
Trump can be beaten but it won’t be easy.
He is the only president in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50% approval, yet he has raised $24.8 million in less than 24 hours — far more than any Democrat.
The debates will offer voters a glimpse of a candidate who can challenge Trump.