What to Expect at the First Democratic Debate

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Just when you thought that the political world had calmed down, the first of a planned six debates from the Democratic Party will be held on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. The five announced candidates – former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, current Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee and former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb – will take the stage around 9PM Eastern Time on Tuesday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, presenting their reasoning for being the party’s selection for the 2016 Presidential nomination. It may not be as visually exciting as what the Republican Party have been able to put on in their previous two clashes, with their myriad of candidates all saying the same thing but trying to sound different, but these debates are just as important as those on the GOP side.

With President Barack Obama heading off into the sunset following his two terms in office, it is up to one of these five people to try to maintain the legacy of the Democratic Party for several reasons. One, the next President will probably have at least one and potentially as many as three Supreme Court justices to name in their 4-8 year term, basically allowing for a reshaping of the Court towards a more conservative or liberal bend. Two, if the next President is one of these Democrats, they will be able to firmly ensconce the Affordable Care Act – “ObamaCare” to many – as the “law of the land” and make it even more difficult to take away through repeal as it becomes more entrenched in the U. S. psyche. And three, the Democrats would be able to maintain the current foreign policy viewpoint of diplomacy before dominance – the major difference between them and the GOP, who want a war on all days that end in a “y.”

Anyone who says that the Democrats didn’t think that this would be a simple coronation for Clinton on the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016 would be out-and-out lying. After getting stunningly pummeled in 2008 by Obama, Clinton did her duty in first accepting the Secretary of State role in the Obama Administration and then in not trying to usurp Obama is 2012. Her reward for this party loyalty was supposed to be a free pass to the Democratic nomination in 2016 but, along the way to the coronation party, someone threw a huge monkey wrench in the plans.

Sanders, the genial, grandfatherly Senator from the Northeast who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” has been stealing a great deal of Clinton’s thunder, especially in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Part of the appeal of Sanders has been his Quixotic-tilt against the uber-rich, banks and corporations, which has struck a chord with the young and the downtrodden. His firm stance against all military action in the Middle East has also drawn comparisons of Sanders to fellow Kentucky Senator and Presidential hopeful Rand Paul – you know, back when Rand Paul was cool before he became a Republican.

Sanders has become so popular with some Democrats that the threats against Clinton in the early primary states have forced her into campaigning much sooner than she would like to have done. The Clinton team is looking to get her through the first few primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, ready to take a second place finish behind Sanders, and prepare for the “SEC Primaries” at the beginning of March in the South, a traditional stronghold of the Clintons that would allow her to be able to thwart a Sanders attack through numerous victories.

There are a few differences between Clinton and Sanders, but there is more diversity when you toss the other candidates in the mix. O’Malley is a “law and order” type that, as mayor of Baltimore, was able to lower crime rates and improve the city’s image (it is also alleged that the tactics employed by O’Malley – the “stop and frisk” utilized by police officers, in particular, where officers could stop anyone for investigation despite not visually committing a crime – were a major impetus for the Baltimore riots of earlier this summer). Chafee is a former Republican who first became an independent before moving to the Democratic Party, while Webb is almost a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) as he supports the “close the border first, then maybe amnesty” program popular with Republicans as well as reining in the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulatory authority.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room will be the specter of current Vice President Joe Biden. Supposedly considering a third run for President, Biden has not committed to this debate as of Monday, but CNN has stated that a podium will be on hand should Biden state he wants to take part in the festivities. With Biden polling better than Sanders (but still behind Clinton), Biden would be an immediate (and strong) challenger to Clinton, forcing her to fend off not only Sanders but also Biden.

What exactly is going to happen in the debate? First off, Sanders and Clinton – and throw Biden into the mix should he show up – will not attack each other as the GOP candidates did in their second debate. First, moderator Anderson Cooper and his panelists, CNN reporter/anchor Dana Bash, CNN anchor Don Lemon and CNN en Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez, are not going to ask the “challenging” questions that saw the Republicans rip into each other during their debates. “I think it’s just as interesting to kind of learn about some of these candidates who the American public doesn’t really know much about,” Cooper stated in an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources over the weekend, “as it is to hear from some of the candidates you do.”

There has also been a remarkable bonhomie between Sanders and Clinton in that they haven’t brought the knives out against each other. Sanders, in particular, has been given multiple opportunities to rip into Clinton over a variety of problems she has faced (her private e-mail server, her work with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative and how it affected her time as Secretary of State, her vote for the Iraq War in 2003, etc.), but he has refused to do any mudslinging and instead concentrated on his message. That is a bit refreshing in this current day and age of politics.

Both Clinton and Sanders are going to continue with their own presentations of what their plans as President will be, which differ in some areas. Sanders in particular has made many suggestions regarding what he would do as President – free college for all students, raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide, universal health care (going beyond ObamaCare) – but he will also have to answer about how he’s going to pay for those things; if Sanders’ plan to increase taxes on the 1% (for your information, that would be anyone who makes more than $344,000) and reduce military spending doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny, then his other plans won’t be taken seriously.

The ones who have nothing to lose are O’Malley, Chafee and Webb. Any airtime they get during the debates would be welcome as the three men currently are barely even making an impact on the polls (Webb is averaging .9%, O’Malley .6% and Chafee .2%, according to Real Clear Politics and their national polls). They also have to make viewers/voters remember them, so taking some shots at Clinton, Sanders and/or Biden (if he shows up and he’s polling at 18.6%) might help them out. If these candidates can’t get a bump out of this debate, they may not get another shot at the next debate in November, especially if Biden announces a run for the Presidency and their numbers stay the same.

One thing that will NOT happen is any of the candidates making a serious faux pas. All of them are experienced debaters and, as such, will be able to withstand the slings and arrows that come from their opponents. Only the introduction of Biden into the mix (due to preparation by the candidates for those that are currently on the dais and not an 11th hour introduction of another player) or a change in tactics by Sanders regarding his “no mudslinging” tactics with Clinton might change the game.

It might not be as electric as the GOP debates have been to this point, but the Democratic debate should provide viewers/voters with more substantive information on the candidates. It will also mark the drive towards next November when the next President of the United States will be chosen.

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