2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the September Democratic debate

2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the September Democratic debate
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Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls are set to take the stage at Texas Southern University in Houston on Thursday evening, in what will be the longest 2020 debate to date.

Unlike the first two debates, this one will not be split into two nights, giving viewers their first chance to see all the top-tier candidates together on the debate stage.

The forum, which will be hosted by ABC News, will go from 7-10 p.m. CDT (8-11 p.m. EDT).


Who will be there? Who won't? What questions will the candidates be asked? Who will jab at whom? What will we learn? Keep reading for everything you need to know for the third 2020 Democratic primary debate.

Who will be there, and in what order?

In order of stage placement

What are people saying about the stage placement?

The stage placement has the largely centrist Biden sandwiched between progressive heavyweights Warren and Sanders, a visual that will likely highlight the debate over the direction and future of the Democratic Party.

Viewers will also likely see Warren and Sanders pushing Biden to the left on a host of issues.

Warren and Sanders avoided going to head-to-head in the July debates, staying friendly toward each other as they fielded a number of attacks by more centrist candidates.

The event will also mark the first time Biden and Warren have come face-to-face on a Democratic debate stage.

Warren has climbed steadily in the polls since launching her campaign late last year and has wowed town hall crowds across the country with her in-depth policy strategies. She is second now only to Biden in a number of polls.

What topics could come up?

Gun control

The issue is likely to be front and center as the U.S. continues to grapple with the deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that took place over the summer. Democrats have urged Congress and the Trump administration to act on the issue. O’Rourke has been particularly vocal in wake of the shooting in his hometown of El Paso last month that killed 22.

Climate change

The issue has proven to be a defining one for the party, with Democrats embracing more progressive stances on climate. While the candidates took part in a seven-hour CNN climate town hall last week, expect the issue to be brought up at least once during the debate. 

Health care

The direction of the health care system has become another defining issue for Democrats, who have grappled with the decision of whether it would be better to build upon ObamaCare or overhaul the law in favor of a "Medicare for All" system.

Former President Obama became a topic of conversation during the July debates, with health care being one of the issues many candidates openly differed with him on.

Biden was quick to call his opponents out after the debate for criticizing Obama, who remains one of the most popular figures within the Democratic Party.

Foreign policy

While voters do not tend to cast their ballots based on specific foreign policy issues, the topic has played a dominant role in the news cycle for weeks now, whether it’s President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE’s decision to cancel a meeting with the Taliban at Camp David, the ongoing U.S.-China trade war or Trump’s inquiries about a U.S. purchase of Greenland.

Expect the candidates to weigh in at least once on the topic.

Who's asking the questions?

— ABC News chief anchor George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosPelosi: Nationwide mask mandate 'definitely long overdue' ABC News to air Bolton interview shortly before White House memoir release GOP senator says it's time to stop naming military bases after Confederate generals MORE

— “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir

— ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis

— Univision anchor Jorge Ramos

Who won’t be there?

The debate stage was cut in half for the one-night event after several candidates failed to meet the polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify.

In order to have qualified, candidates had to receive contributions from a minimum of 130,000 individual donors and had to reach the 2 percent polling threshold in at least four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

A number of candidates that failed to make the cut have since hit the DNC for its rules and have vowed to stay in the race.

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Bennet hit the committee days before he found he didn’t make the cut, accusing the body of rewarding the candidates with the biggest following.

“We’re rewarding celebrity candidates with millions of Twitter followers, billionaires who buy their way onto the debate stage, and candidates who have been running for president for years," Bennet said last month. "It forces campaigns to force over millions of dollars to Facebook, the same platform that let the Russians interfere in 2016, instead of harnessing the resources to talk to voters.” 

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Gabbard also hit the DNC for the debate qualification guidelines, saying they were not transparent.

“Here’s the situation: there’s a whole bunch of different polls that have come out. The DNC has only recognized some of them as being qualifying polls for the debate,” Gabbard told Fox News last month. “The whole thing gets a little bit confusing. You’ve gotta jump way down into the weeds of the numbers and statistics, but I think the bigger problem is that whole process really lacks transparency.”

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Bullock told The Hill in an interview last month that despite not making the cut for the debate stage, he was not thinking about dropping out the race.

“I think that the debate is missing something without me in it. But you know, we still know that we’re five and a half months from the Iowa caucuses, which is the first time that actual voters get to express a preference,” he said. “Actual voters are still off on summer vacation. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (D-Md.)

Delaney garnered attention for hitting Warren and Sanders head-on in the last debate on their progressive policies. He criticized the DNC for cutting the field in half for the debate.

“I think the Republicans kind of did it better in 2016,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “There was a night for candidates who were polling at the top, and then a night for the other candidates.” 

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The New York City mayor failed to make Thursday’s debates, and has hinted that he would drop out if he did not make the cut for the October debates.

“I think the logical thing to say is, you know, I’m going to try to get into the October debates and if I can then I think that’s a good reason to keep going forward and if I can’t I think it’s really tough to conceive of continuing. So that’s the way I’m looking at it right now," he said at a press conference last month.

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While the billionaire did not make the September debates, he will be on the stage next month, which could expand the forum to two nights. 

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Ryan has shown no signs of dropping out of the race since failing to make the cut. The Ohio congressman told MSNBC last month that his campaign was “moving forward.”

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Despite being the most-searched candidate during the second Democratic debate, Williamson failed to make the cut for the third forum.

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Messam has not gained traction in fundraising or polling, so it comes as no surprise that he failed to make the cut.

Where can I watch the debate?

The forum will be broadcast on local ABC affiliates, while Univision will be airing a Spanish translation. The debate will also be streaming across a number of different platforms, including Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter.