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 compares Trump to George Wallace Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard arrives in Puerto Rico to 'show support' amid street protests Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' 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 ButtigiegDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWhat to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much Biden compares Trump to George Wallace CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE (D-Calif.), will flank Biden and Sanders, respectively. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro is behind in the polls, but he's finding a niche Gabbard arrives in Puerto Rico to 'show support' amid street protests Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall 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 BookerDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage Protect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase 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.