Sanders, Warren take center stage as 2020 Democratic debates enter second round
Progressive allies Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren headline the first night of the second Democratic presidential debates on Tuesday, with eight other contenders aiming for a breakout performance that could propel them into the top tier of the White House race.
The first of two debates on back-to-back nights will give Warren and Sanders, old friends who have been battling for second place in opinion polls behind front-runner Joe Biden, a chance to draw some contrasts between their progressive policies even though they have promised not to attack each other.
The other candidates on stage in Detroit on Tuesday, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, former congressman Beto O’Rourke and US Senator Amy Klobuchar, will be aiming for the sort of post-debate surge that US Senator Kamala Harris enjoyed after a strong performance in the first Democratic debate in Miami last month.
Harris got a bump in the polls when she confronted Biden over his past opposition to forced busing and comments about working with segregationists. She and Biden, the former vice president, will renew their rivalry on the second night of the debate on Wednesday.
The crowded field of about two dozen candidates is vying for attention and financial support in the race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.
The two nights in Detroit could be the last chance for many of the lower-tier contenders to debate on the national stage, as the Democratic National Committee will double its fundraising and polling requirements to qualify for participation in the next debates in September and October.
With Harris showing the political value of a well-placed punch in last month’s debate, fireworks are expected on both nights.
“Be prepared for a fight. The time to play it safe is over,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, a former adviser on the White House campaign of John Edwards. “If the last debate proved anything, it’s that if you play it safe, you make yourself vulnerable - or you disappear.”
Warren and Sanders, who serve together in the US Senate, appeared on different nights in last month’s debates. Warren, the only top-tier contender on stage the first night, emerged with new momentum after going largely unscathed and showing off her array of progressive policy proposals.
Sanders was mostly sidelined on the next night, standing placidly by as Biden and Harris leaned across him to spar over race.
Warren’s steady rise in the polls, fueled by stealing support from Sanders on the left, will put pressure on him to find some way to reclaim the grassroots energy that came so easily in the 2016 campaign, when he was Hillary Clinton’s only competition.
Warren and Sanders insist they are friends, not rivals, and will not turn on each other for their own political gain.
But most of the other candidates on stage will be more moderate and more desperate, making it likely the race’s two leading progressive could be targeted for their ambitious proposals like universal healthcare and free college tuition.