In their last showing of 2019, seven hopefuls for the Democratic nomination will meet on the stage Thursday for the smallest and whitest debate yet.
The debate will come almost exactly 24 hours after the House voted, largely along party lines, to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. On top of the historical moment, some on the debate stage will have parts to play before the process is said and done.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) will all be jurors when the the House eventually sends the articles to the Senate. None of these three would defect on the ultimate vote, but they may have something to say about which witnesses they’d like to see called during the trial. The moment also lends them a special relevance to the biggest political story of the day.
A White Christmas
The only person of color who met the debate threshold is tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang. He will be surrounded by former Vice President Joe Biden, Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) met the donor qualification, but not the polling one. In a creative solution, Booker will air his first television ad during the debate, telling audiences, “I won’t be on tonight’s debate stage, but that’s okay because I’m going to win this election anyway.”
Booker also wrote a letter to the DNC, co-signed by all seven candidates who did make the stage, asking the organization to reconsider the debate standards for the upcoming events in January and February. Per ABC News, Booker wrote that they have “unnecessarily and artificially” winnowed the field of diverse candidates. The DNC rejected the request.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro also failed to meet the polling threshold, and will air his own ad during the debate. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) suspended her campaign earlier this month, citing a lack of financial resources.
Who Run The World?
With Harris dropping out and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) failing to make the stage, there will be fewer women present Thursday night than in any of the earlier debates.
Only Klobuchar and Warren will be holding down the stage, flanked by five men.
This will become especially notable if the moderators, hailing from PBS and Politico, ask any questions about reproductive health, a topic that has been noticeably absent from most of the debates up until this point.
Iowa On The Brain
Warren and Buttigieg have been firing off broadsides at each other about financial transparency, with Warren hitting on his McKinsey consulting and Buttigieg highlighting her past as a corporate lawyer.
Buttigieg especially has been performing extremely well in Iowa polls as the candidates race toward the caucuses in February. That’s an uncomfortable situation for Warren, who is targeting many of the same educated white voters with whom Buttigieg is popular. Watch out for some targeted attacks from Warren tying Buttigieg to corporate and big-money interests.
Warren and Buttigieg aren’t the only candidates haggling over the same slice of the electorate. Sanders and Yang are both popular with younger voters, a desirable demographic. Yang rolled out a health care plan on Monday, possibly trying to position himself as a more realistic Sanders alternative.
Yang has largely focused his campaign on one issue — universal basic income — and has therefore been shunted to the side. His myopic focus and lack of political experience have earned him treatment as a political sideshow more in the camp of a Marianne Williamson than a serious candidate. He does, however, have an enthusiastic group of supporters.
And he keeps qualifying for the debates, edging out current and former lawmakers and administration officials. Expect Yang to use his speaking time to tout his health care plan and other policy proposals in an attempt to prove that he’s more than a one-trick pony.
Finally, shockingly, Steyer qualified for the debate stage again. The billionaire entered the race at the eleventh hour and has since poured more than $47.6 million of his own money into his campaign.
The depth of his pockets has lent him a staying power nearly no other candidate enjoys.
The debate, co-hosted by PBS and Politico at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, will air at 8 pm E.T. on local PBS stations and CNN.