The Democrats onstage are facing pressure to show that they can appeal to a broader audience beyond the fervent progressive activists who are increasingly pushing the party to left.
Tuesday’s debate will also be the first time that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden will stand at center stage as co-front-runners in the polls. So far, Warren has delivered strong and smooth performances in all of the presidential primary debates — easily deflecting punches thrown in her direction while crisply outlining her own plans in a way that has found favor with Democratic voters.
As Warren continues to ascend, Biden has begun to take some not-so-subtle jabs at her record and even the depth of her policy agenda, arguing recently on the campaign trail that the nation doesn’t need “a planner” at this critical time.
Warren was in a statistical tie with Biden nationally in a Quinnipiac national poll released Monday, with the Massachusetts senator at 30% and the former vice president at 27%.
While attempting to demonstrate that he would be a stronger opponent for Trump than Warren in the general election, Biden must also untangle himself from the questions that the President has raised about his son Hunter’s work in Ukraine while he was vice president.
Though there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, the matter has become serious enough that Hunter Biden did his first televised interview — aired on Tuesday morning, just hours before the debate — to underscore that he did not take advantage of his father’s position of power.
“I did nothing wrong at all,” Hunter Biden said in an interview with ABC News.
He said of his role serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company: “Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever,” he said.
“However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is — it’s a swamp, in many ways? Yeah.”
Beyond her rivalry with Biden, Warren is likely to take some jabs from other opponents. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has suggested her small-dollar fundraising strategy — accumulating what he called “pocket change” — won’t stand the test of time against Trump, who raised $125 million in conjunction with Republican National Committee the last quarter.
The debate also marks the first time that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will appear on the campaign trail since his heart attack two weeks ago, potentially facing questions about his stamina for the duration of the campaign.
Of the 12 candidates who will compete tonight, only eight have met the threshold to qualify for the November debate in Georgia.
That means tonight may be the last chance for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to make their case to Democratic voters that they should stay in the running.