5 Key Candidates to Watch Out for in Democratic Debate

Here are the five candidates to watch closely

WCCO Radio Newsroom
July 30, 2019 - 4:55 pm

(WCCO) -- The Democratic debate on Tuesday night is likely to be a full-throated affair, as fringe candidates fight to gain traction before tougher debate qualifications kick in, while others seek a comeback moment, or to cement their "real" contender status. Current frontrunner Joe Biden will not be behind a podium—he'll get his turn on Wednesday night's slate—but progressive powerhouses Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will share the center of the stage.

Here are five candidates everyone will be paying attention to:

Did you hear? "Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that" 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has stood out from the rest of the Democratic field with so many detailed policy proposals that "Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that," became a meme. She'll be close to the center of the stage, and can expect lots of questions and airtime, as well as a few bards headed her way from other candidates.  

While her plans are arguably her biggest asset, they will also undoubtedly provide a target for other candidates trying to grab some much-needed limelight.

Can Bernie Sanders still be a force?

There's no doubt that the ideas Bernie Sanders advocated for in his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, like canceling student debt, or his signature Medicare For All proposal, have shaped this year's primary, as other candidates have adopted key elements of his platform.

This time, however, the senator from Vermont isn't up against Hilary Clinton, but against what many call a more diverse and progressive field of candidates; some think the difference has been telling. Can he still stand out? He many not be a big fan of these debates, but he needs to deliver a convincing performance as much as anyone. 

Pete Buttigieg has to be more than hope and change

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the room at 37, and has turned heads with both his ability to draw crowds and raise funds—he pulled in $24.8 million last quarter, eclipsing even Bernie Sanders. 

While he inspires and speaks eloquently, Buttigieg, the race's only openly gay candidate, has been repeatedly knocked by critics for lacking specifics in his platform. Expect him to take a page from Warren's book (hopefully, not literally, ask Biden about that) and share some numbers from a policy proposal on his website.

Beto O'Rourke, comeback kid?

Perhaps no one is under more pressure Tuesday night than Beto O’Rourke, who has gone from ascendant young candidate to one in urgent need of a comeback following a debate performance that was panned by critics and a tough month in the polls.  

O’Rourke is out to prove he's not "yesterday's Pete Buttigieg"— and he has hinted he might do that by going after the mayor on policy. Whatever his strategy, O’Rourke has reportedly told staffers he plans to give a more dynamic performance, and he needs a standout performance, as voters—and funders—will be watching closely. 

Amy Klobuchar, behind center 

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has presented herself as a practical and electable get-things-done candidate willing to go against mainstream progressive mantras, like canceling student loan debt, while presenting an incrementalist vision of change. 

However, like the other moderates on stage, such as Montana's Steve Bullock and Colorado's John Hickenlooper, Klobuchar has yet to gain traction in the polls, and the debate could present one of her last, clear opportunities to draw a compelling distinction between her brand of moderate progressiveness compared to the more left-leaning candidates at the center of the stage—Sanders and Warren.

Expect Klobuchar and her fellow moderates to come out swinging.