When the candidates take the stage in Nevada tonight, a few things will be rather different than in the previous debates.
For one, only six candidates will partake in the event. Andrew Yang suspended his campaign after subpar finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Billionaire Tom Steyer and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii have not qualified for the debate. Both did not obtain delegates from the previous results, nor did they poll at least 10 percent in four DNC-approved polls between Jan. 15 and Feb. 18.
Fewer candidates equate to additional time for each of the candidates to elucidate questions. For some, it can be an opportunity; for others, it may pose a detriment. A detriment because the additional time of attention yields the prospects for increased attacks by the adversaries.
Typically, the candidates who lead the polls or the race are those who might be attacked the most. Most likely, Amy Klobuchar, due to her most recent success, will be one of the recipients. So far, Klobuchar had not been recognized as a legitimate threat by the opposite candidates. Following her previous debate performance and a great result in New Hampshire, the knives will now come out for her too. Questions regarding her treatment of staff have previously transpired. Today, she will be challenged and criticized not only for her alleged character flaws but also why she had called for a fence at the border to Mexico back in 2006, while throughout her campaign, she, just like everyone else, has chastised the Trump administration for the wall.
The idea that Pete Buttigieg will not be pressed on his mayoral record on minority arrests seems inconceivable, a newfound reluctance of his adversaries to critique his experience or lack thereof almost impossible. Moreover, how far can Buttigieg take his approach of copying the mannerisms and rhetorical tricks of President Obama (e.g., the long pauses in between sentences, the facial expressions and at times even the exact wording)?
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are making an early arrival in the campaign casino. Both are in need to gamble – with house money at this stage. The upside is infinitesimal risk exposure, but lots of equity to gain. Excellent performances, particularly if Sanders and Buttigieg struggle, can revitalize their respective campaigns. One should thus anticipate Warren as well as Biden to actively engage while taking substantial swings at the other candidates. Warren, for one, has little choice but to go after Sanders, which could culminate in an exciting exchange that might resemble anything in between a Chomsky lecture and a bidding war of socialist promises.
However, the real, more pressing divergence at today’s debate will be Mike Bloomberg’s first appearance on stage and the immediate game-changer potential it generates. Participating in the debate is not without risk for Bloomberg, as he, without a doubt, is going to be the focus of all attacks tonight. On the bright side, it makes him the center of attention, and Bloomberg being Bloomberg can handle it. Any potentially controversial statement the former New York mayor ever made is going to be utilized. In essence, the rest of the field is set to throw handfuls of mud at Bloomberg, only to see what sticks. However, if Bloomberg’s alleged “weaknesses” are wealth, success, and the proclivity for upholding the rule of law, the rest of the field might be in for a long night.
The previous week offered a sneak peek of the topics Bloomberg could be pushed on, like his stop-and-frisk policy in New York. It is hard to imagine any boundaries at this stage, as everyone is cognizant that due to Joe Biden’s decline and the resources Mike Bloomberg possesses, he now is the man to beat.
However, Bloomberg himself is not looking at being defensive all night. He will fire right back and, in fact, has done so already when he published a campaign video that criticizes Bernie Sanders’ aggressive hard-line supporters, the “Bernie Bros” and their repugnant aggressiveness towards all other candidates. Meanwhile, Sanders has failed to condemn their behavior.
Both current front runners, Sanders and Buttigieg, are offering substantial angles of attacks (i.e., Sanders is a socialist and Buttigieg being entirely inexperienced). Biden has appeared weak, and Klobuchar struggles on the fundraising side. Bloomberg – though a former Republican and independent – symbolizes precisely what the majority of Democrats have been seeking since the race began: a strong, convincing, and experienced moderate candidate who is electable and thus capable of beating Donald Trump in November – nothing would reaffirm this notion more than a first stellar performance tonight.