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 BidenBiden jokes he's ready for a push-up competition with Trump Biden says his presidency is not 'a third term of Obama' Biden knocks Trump on tweets about 'smart as hell' Ocasio-Cortez MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Sanders slams decision not to charge officer who killed Eric Garner Cardi B says voters let Bernie Sanders down 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 ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race South Bend police officer resigns after killing of black man MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death Harris vows to 'put people over profit' in prescription drug plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE (D-Calif.), will flank Biden and Sanders, respectively. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Trump says administration will 'take a look' after Thiel raises concerns about Google, China Thiel calls Warren the most 'dangerous' Democratic candidate 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 BookerHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race Critics slam billion Facebook fine as weak 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.