WASHINGTON — The opening 2020 Democratic debate double feature is set: Elizabeth Warren vs. the field on the first night, and establishment Joe Biden vs. democratic socialist Bernie Sanders — plus two more of the top-five polling hopefuls and six undercard candidates — in the “Lord of the Flies” closer.
The two-day extravaganza in Miami, which will air live on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo June 26-27, represents the first time a national television audience gets to see most of the contestants for the Democratic nomination compete against one another. In this case, it will be in decahedral — or ten-headed — fashion, with the group of 20 candidates who qualified split evenly between the two nights.
But in terms of marquee names, the draw ended up heavily weighted toward the second night — a dynamic that has big implications for both rounds.
In the first heat, Warren — the Massachusetts senator who currently sits third at about 12 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls — is the only one of the five candidates registering above 4 percent routinely in surveys who will be on the stage.
That could be a blessing for her — a chance to dominate — but it could also be a curse if she fails to deliver.
Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist whose firm Park Street Strategies is releasing a poll of Democratic voters on Monday, said that the same pressure is on all the top-tier candidates regardless of which night they drew.
“None of them can afford to falter in a debate,” he said. By the same token, he said, Democratic voters are suffering from candidate overload and are ready for the field to winnow some, which puts an onus on the lesser-knowns to raise their profiles quickly.
“Either they rise to the moment, or their candidacy is done,” he said. “The margin-of-error candidates have no margin for error.”
The other nine competing with Warren, a set that includes two of her fellow senators, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and one former Texas congressman — Beto O’Rourke — who has become more aggressive as he tries to jump-start his campaign, see an opening in avoiding a Biden-Sanders slugfest that also features Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
“This is an opportunity for us,” said an aide to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the challenges facing other candidates. “Every story that comes out of Night Two of the debates is going to be about Biden and how he stacked up against the younger candidates given how he has been covered lately.”
Those younger candidates “are going to struggle to break out of that shadow,” the aide said.
The sleeper candidate on the first night could be Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has been praised in Democratic circles for her performance in high-profile congressional hearings and who gets informal advice from a set of longtime party hands familiar with the debate-prep process.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who has made climate change the center of his campaign; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who has earned plaudits from Warren for his immigration proposal; two sitting House members, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio; and one former congressman, John Delaney of Maryland, round out the lineup for the first night.
All eyes will be on Biden and Sanders, who represent the poles of the Democratic primary contest — a centrist who has “evolved” as the party has moved leftward on social policy over his decades in the spotlight, and an iconoclastic progressive who has run as an independent for the House and Senate and recently gave a speech laying out his philosophy of democratic socialism.
They also happen to be the candidates with the highest name-recognition and the leaders in most national polls, as well as the small set of surveys that have been taken in the first four states on the Democratic primary calendar.
Sanders will welcome the opportunity for a direct contrast, as he has been the candidate most open to taking on Biden, the popular former vice president, directly. But he’ll have competition on the stage in the form of Buttigieg and Harris, who will have to weigh whether they are more concerned with introducing themselves to the many voters who still don’t know them or taking the risk of going after the front-runners to cut into their support.
For voters, the stage will offer a full study in comparisons between Biden and the rest of the pack.
“He’s going to have a lot of sharp contrasts, because you’re going to have Bernie Sanders, who is much more progressive than he is, and Pete Buttigieg, who is much younger than he is, and Kamala Harris, who is a woman of color,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who was campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s first bid for president. “There’s just going to be a lot of visual contrasts there between the front-runner and the other candidates.”
That could cut two ways for Biden: It could be that the panoply of Democratic rivals drown one another out or that he comes off as unrepresentative of the party.
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad,” Solis Doyle said. “But for the first time in this race, you’re going to see what the choices are.”
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Republicans trash Hunter Biden at Judiciary Committee meeting on impeachment
Republicans dragged Hunter Biden’s name through the mud Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee meeting on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., recounted Biden’s admitted past drug abuse — which quickly backfired when Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., hinted at the Florida lawmaker’s own past substance abuse problems.
During the committee meeting, Gaetz introduced an amendment to strike a reference of former Vice President Joe Biden from the articles of impeachment and put in Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of that company.
Gaetz then read aloud from an extensive profile of Hunter Biden in The New Yorker, which detailed Biden’s past drug abuse and an incident in which he crashed a rental car and an official from the company found “a crack pipe in the car and, on one of the consoles, a line of white-powder residue.”
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“I don’t want to make light of anyone’s substance abuse issues … but it’s a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car,” Gaetz said.
Johnson, D-Ga., shot back and hinted at Gaetz’s 2008 arrest on charges of driving under the influence.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something we should do,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what members have had problems with substance abuse, been busted for DUI — I don’t know. But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone.”
The charges against Gaetz were later dropped, according to PolitiFact.
Other Republicans on the committee also went after Hunter Biden by questioning if he had the experience to work at Burisma and claiming his political connections got him the job.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, alleged Hunter Biden got a “sweetheart deal” working at Burisma, while Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, claimed that Democrats were trying to sweep his conflicts “under the rug.”
“And nearly every single witness who testified at the Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry agreed that Hunter Biden’s Burisma deal created at the very least the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Chabot said. “Yet, the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and Chairman (Adam) Schiff and Democrats in this committee are determined to sweep all this under the rug, ignore it, not let us call witnesses on it and instead rush to impeach this president.”
A representative for Hunter Biden did not immediately return a request for comment.
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