5 things to watch in the latest Democratic debate

WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Twelve Democratic presidential hopefuls will descend on Otterbein University on Tuesday for the fourth primary debate.

The forum, the largest Democratic debate to date, comes as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Vogue's Anna Wintour urges Biden to pick woman of color for VP Biden should name a 'team of colleagues' MORE (D-Mass.) emerges as the candidate with the most momentum after surging ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden in recent polls.

Biden, though, is still seen as a top contender even as he has found himself mired in the contentious impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE.

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The debate will also mark Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Biden's 'allies' gearing up to sink his campaign Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support MORE’s (I-Vt.) return to the campaign trail after he suffered a heart attack earlier this month, at a time when he appears to have lost some momentum in the polls.

Here are five things to watch in the debate.

 

Will rivals go after Warren?

Tuesday’s debate will mark the first where Warren is on the stage as a front-runner after overtaking Biden in national polls as well as in some surveys in states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

A survey from Quinnipiac University Poll released this week shows the progressive senator leading Biden 30 percent to 27 percent among Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents.

Warren’s momentum could make her vulnerable to attacks from the 11 other candidates on the stage. Biden and Sanders, considered her top rivals, have already signaled that they are ready to hit Warren on the debate stage.

Biden last week appeared to take a swing at Warren’s strategy of unveiling a slew of detailed policy proposals, saying “we’re not electing a planner.”

Meanwhile, Sanders, who has avoided taking Warren head-on so far during the debate, appeared to try to differentiate himself from his fellow progressive senator, calling her “a capitalist” and describing himself as “the only candidate” who is going to push back against “the ruling class of this country.”

The race’s mid-tier candidates, like Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Vogue's Anna Wintour urges Biden to pick woman of color for VP Biden should name a 'team of colleagues' MORE (D-Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Here's how Biden can win over the minority vote and the Rust Belt MORE (D), could also look to stand out by going after Warren. Harris experienced a brief surge in the polls and in fundraising after hitting Biden during the first Democratic debate in June, though she was unable to sustain that momentum.

 

Can Bernie reassure after heart attack?

The debate will mark Sanders’s first major public appearance since suffering a heart attack this month. Sanders has said he is resting comfortably at his home in Burlington, Vt., and has opened up about his recent health issues, injecting a more personal touch to his campaign.

Sanders, 78, said last week he was “dumb” not to pay more attention to his symptoms amid his strenuous campaign schedule.

Sanders could use the debate to further provide reassurances that he is physically fit enough for the White House and address the issue head-on, at a time when there are already concerns about his age.

The senator’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told The Hill in an interview last week that the campaign’s strategy after the health scare is to be as transparent as possible about the situation.

The debate comes at a critical time for Sanders, who gained a loyal following in 2016 with his insurgent campaign against eventual nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJuan Williams: Bush could strike blow for Biden Zuckerberg expressed concern to Trump over rhetoric amid protests: Axios Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight MORE.

But Sanders has seen his momentum stall in the polls as he is overtaken by Warren, a fellow progressive who has proven more successful at capturing attention so far.

A Quinnipiac poll this week showed Biden and Warren running neck and neck among Democratic primary voters and Democratic-leaning independents, while Sanders trailed far behind at 11 percent.

 

How do Democrats handle Trump’s attacks on Biden?

Biden has been forced to contend with a series of unproven allegations from Trump, who has claimed the former vice president thwarted a Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigation into an energy company that employed Biden’s son Hunter as a board member.

Biden has strongly denied that, saying the Obama administration sought to remove the prosecutor over concerns about corruption.

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Trump’s attacks come as the president is facing an impeachment inquiry sparked by a whistleblower’s allegations that he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden.

Democratic candidates have mostly defended Biden so far in the face of Trump’s attacks amid worries that Trump’s campaign could be adopting the same playbook used to attack Clinton over her use of a private email server while secretary of State.

Buttigieg told CNN last week that Biden’s son was being held to different standards than Trump’s own children, while Warren has hit Facebook for not removing ads from the Trump campaign featuring baseless allegations about Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine.

But Democratic candidates will still need to find ways of drawing contrasts with Biden, who retains strong support among key Democratic constituencies like African Americans.

 

Do Democrats give more momentum to impeachment push?

The forum will mark the first debate since House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (D-Calif.) announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump, which will likely force the contenders to address the issue on stage.

A number of national polls conducted after Pelosi’s announcement show Americans growing more comfortable with an impeachment inquiry, giving 2020 Democrats leeway to talk more openly about the issue.

Most contenders have already vocally thrown their support behind impeachment. Biden was the latest to do so in a forceful speech denouncing Trump last week.

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-Hawaii), who voiced her support for an impeachment inquiry late last month, has offered a more cautious approach to the issue and called out her opponents for fundraising off of impeachment.

The debate will also feature billionaire Tom SteyerTom SteyerBloomberg wages war on COVID-19, but will he abandon his war on coal? Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil Ocasio-Cortez, Schiff team up to boost youth voter turnout MORE, who made his name by calling for Trump’s impeachment, though he has sought to broaden his candidacy as a fight against corporate corruption since entering the race.

 

Twelve candidates are on stage. Will some of them come back?

The forum will be the largest single primary debate yet, with 12 candidates, and will also feature the most women on a single debate stage in U.S. history, according to Gender on the Ballot.

However, the field could significantly shrink between Tuesday’s debate and the next one in November after the threshold to qualify was increased by the Democratic National Committee.

The first debate initially featured 20 candidates spread over two nights, but toughened criteria has since left out contenders like Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Key races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight MORE (D).

For the November debate, candidates must garner a minimum of 3 percent in four approved polls or get 5 percent support in single early-state polls out of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada. Additionally, the contenders must bring in 165,000 individual donors and at least 600 individual donors per state in a minimum of 20 states.

Steyer, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris and Buttigieg, along with businessman Andrew YangAndrew YangAndrew Yang discusses his universal basic income pilot program Andrew Yang on the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis McConnell challenger on how Yang endorsement could help him MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic City leaders, Democratic lawmakers urge Trump to tamp down rhetoric as protests rage across US Sunday shows - George Floyd's death, protests bump COVID-19 from headlines MORE (D-N.J.), are the eight candidates to have qualified for the November debate so far.

The tougher criteria for the next debate will raise questions about whether candidates like Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Vogue's Anna Wintour urges Biden to pick woman of color for VP Biden should name a 'team of colleagues' MORE (D-Minn.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro can get a spot after making it to the stage this month.