Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate

Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate
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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.) will find themselves next to each other on center stage on the second night of the first Democratic presidential primary debate next week.

The pair have emerged as two of the top contenders in the crowded primary pack and have presented starkly contrasting visions for the future of the party, with Biden casting himself as a centrist and Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, vowing to continue the “political revolution” he started with his insurgent campaign in 2016.

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Two other top-tier candidates, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-Calif.), will flank Biden and Sanders, respectively. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs MORE (D-Mass.), who has risen to the top tier in several primary polls with a litany of detailed platform releases, will face off against nine other Democrats on the first night of the debate, sharing center stage with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). 

NBC News, which will host the first debate on back-to-back nights June 26 and June 27, released the lineups for both nights Tuesday.

The lineup sets the stage for Biden and Sanders to go head-to-head for the first time, as the Vermont Independent seeks to cut into Biden's front-runner status.

The two have taken veiled swipes at each other in recent weeks. During a speech at the California Democratic Party convention earlier this month, Sanders criticized the idea of a “middle ground” approach to politics, aiming at Biden’s reputation as a moderate.

Biden said at a Chicago fundraiser last week that the country needs change but that “socialism” is not the answer, an apparent jab at Sanders and the progressive flank of the party. 

The second night of the debate is stacked with four top-tier candidates, and Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris are all seeking to make inroads with a Democratic base that must decide among 24 contenders

Though Warren will share the debate stage with high-profile candidates such as O’Rourke and Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Democrats press for action on election security Antitrust enforcers in turf war over Big Tech MORE (D-Minn.), recent polling shows her with comfortable leads over all of them.

The setup will hinder Warren’s ability to take on Biden and Sanders head-to-head but provides an opportunity for her to stand out as a front-runner in her own right on the first night’s debate stage.