It’s time for another round of debates — this time live from Detroit!
The army of Democrats running for president are preparing to jostle under the bright lights and offer, as best they can in soundbite-sized pieces, their vision for the nation and why they alone are best suited to take on President Trump in 2020.
The two-hour forums on Tuesday and Wednesday begin at 8 p.m. Eastern — that’s an hour earlier than in June — with many of the same contestants onstage for what will almost certainly be the last time in the history of humankind.
After this round, the criteria for making the debate stage grow considerably more rigorous, meaning it’s put-up-or-shut-out time for many of the lesser-sung White House hopefuls.
Q: There isn’t really an army of candidates running, right?
A: No, more like a small platoon.
There are roughly two dozen of what you might loosely call “serious” candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, though some are considerably more serious, which is to say viable, than others.
Q: So how do you cram two dozen candidates onstage?
A: You don’t.
You may recall at the last debate the field was split in half, with 10 candidates appearing each night. The format will be the same.
Q: Hmm. That’s only 20 slots.
A: Correct! Simple arithmetic suggests some candidates will be left out.
Q: OK, wiseacre. Who decides who makes the cut?
A: The Democratic National Committee set the rules, trying to be inclusive without surpassing the weight-bearing load of the television soundstage.
So candidates had to meet one of two criteria: appeal to 65,000 donors, with at least 200 coming from 20 states, or receive 1% or more support in three state or national polls sanctioned by the DNC.
Nineteen of the 20 candidates who qualified in June also made the debate stage in July.
Q: Who’s missing? Who’s the new face?
A: Northern California Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the race this month, so he’ll presumably be watching on TV like most of the rest of us.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who formally launched his candidacy in mid-May, will be onstage for the first time in Tuesday’s installment.
Q: Remind me again who’s running.
A: We don’t have all day.
Suffice to say the top tier of contestants, roughly speaking, consists of former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Throw in a whole bunch of elected officials, current and former, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and spiritual author Marianne Williamson, and that’s pretty much the lineup.
Q: Isn’t Tom Steyer running?
A: He is. The hedge-fund billionaire and impeachment impresario announced his candidacy this month, which left too little time to qualify for this month’s debate. There are still a few things money can’t buy.
Q: How was it decided which candidates appear on which night?
A: That was left up to CNN, which is producing the Detroit extravaganza.
To ensure a somewhat even distribution of candidates — and help goose ratings — the network conducted a series of random drawings aimed at sprinkling the top-tier candidates over both nights.
As a result, Tuesday will feature Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren as headliners. Topping the marquee the second night will be Biden and Harris, who struck the most sparks last month in a heated exchange over school busing.
Q: Did the last round of debates have much impact?
A: To be clear, nothing said or done in the summer of 2019 is going to decide the Democratic nomination.
Still, Harris’ command of the stage in Round 1 gave her campaign a decided lift, and Biden’s halting performance took some air out of the electability argument that has greatly buoyed his campaign. Considerable pressure is on the former vice president for a better showing on Wednesday night.
Also, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro won plaudits for his strong performance last month, and that gave him a bit of a boost in fundraising and a teensy lift in polls. But he remains among those struggling for a toehold in the race.
Q: I’ve come to really like these candidates. I can’t wait to see all 20 debate again in September!
A: Sorry, that’s not going to happen.
After this round, the criteria change. The Democratic hopefuls will have to hit 2% or better in at least four polls and have at least 130,000 donors, including a minimum of 400 unique donors in each of at least 20 states — twice as many as before.
The stiffer benchmark could easily slash the debate field by more than half.
Q: Gosh, so how do I tune in the next two nights?
A: The debates will be carried live on CNN and will be livestreamed on the network’s website and apps.
Then the next candidate forum is set for Sept. 12, with a second to be held Sept. 13 if the size of the field requires another night. The host city will be Houston, and the media sponsors will be ABC and Univision.
After that, one debate per month is scheduled through March, with the media sponsors still to be determined.