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 Biden'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate Sanders nabs endorsement from Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Poll: Sanders holds 7-point lead in crucial California primary MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNevada Democratic debate draws record-breaking 19.7 million viewers 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate Ocasio-Cortez defends Warren against 'misogynist trope' 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 ButtigiegChasten Buttigieg: 'I've been dealing with the likes of Rush Limbaugh my entire life' San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Buttigieg 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris5 takeaways from Las Vegas debate California lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (D-Calif.), will flank Biden and Sanders, respectively. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren declines to disavow super PAC that supports her San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Buttigieg 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate 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 senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe CNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Bloomberg qualifies for South Carolina primary debate MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWarren declines to disavow super PAC that supports her San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Buttigieg 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate 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.