Warren vs. Sanders and Biden vs. Harris heavyweight matchups will be must-see TV

Warren vs. Sanders and Biden vs. Harris heavyweight matchups will be must-see TV
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There’s only been one cast change in the recurring Democratic docudrama. California Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill California lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Chris Wallace: 'Just insane' Swalwell is talking impeaching Trump again MORE dropped out of the presidential race after the first round of the debates and Montana Governor Steve BullockSteve BullockStates, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash Democrats redefine center as theirs collapses Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight MORE who missed the first round took his place. Eric, we hardly knew ye.

Newbies, billionaire activist Tom SteyerTom Fahr SteyerWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE of California and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak did not get invites to the festivities. Other candidates such as Bay State Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonTrump set to confront his impeachment foes Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo MORE are still waiting in the wings for their invites to come. Don’t hold your breath!

Maybe one of the networks could stage a debate in full pads for the leftovers during halftime of the one of NFL pre-season games.

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Setting the stage

Four of the Democratic hopefuls have consistently polled in double digits since the first round of debates a month ago. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE leads the pack but Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter Clyburn: Biden 'suffered' from not doing 'enough' in early debates MORE (D-Calif.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) are all within spitting distance. 

They are the headliners this week. All the other candidates are on the outside looking in. 

It’s ironic that in an era of hostility toward Washington, the final four are all current or former members of the U.S. Senate. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE, where are you when outsiders need you?

But this really has boiled down to two two-person races. Warren and Sanders are battling to represent the progressive populists in the Democratic finals. Biden and Harris are duking it out to be the standard bearer of the liberal pragmatists.

Warren and Harris are the ascending aspirants and Biden and Sanders are treading water to stay afloat.

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CNN will televise the next Democratic dogfights and conveniently Sanders and Warren will be together at the center of the stage Tuesday night and Biden and Harris will be next to each other stage center the next night.

Tuesday night lights

Warren and Sanders didn’t share a stage in Round No. 1 but will go toe-to-toe in Round No. 2. 

Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote that the two populist candidates are “fishing in the same pool for voters.” So far, Warren has brought up the biggest haul.

It should be a policy wonk’s dream. Warren and Sanders both stand for plans and expect a lot of “my plan is bigger than your plan” Tuesday night. She has supplanted Sanders as the “ideas” candidates. The Bay State senator has a significant lead (29 percent to 13 percent) in the new NBC poll over the Green Mountain State senator among Democrats who want “large scale” policy proposals.

The most persuasive policy advocates are politicians who personalize their platforms. Sanders should use the nationally televised debate to let voters get to know him. It would do Sanders a world of good if he came across as more personable and less preachy. 

Voters want to get into his heart as well as his head. Sanders spends his time explaining his policies and the difference between socialism and communism — but he spends little time talking about how his life led him to his strong beliefs. 

Wednesday night fights

The highlight of this round of debates will be on Wednesday night with the grudge match between Biden and Harris. It may not have the drama as the “Thrilla in Manila” heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier but the “Duel in Detroit” will be must-see TV.

The first round of debates sponsored by NBC was tame except for Harris’ successful attack on Biden for his opposition to busing for racial balance and for boasting about working  with segregationist senators while he served in the upper chamber. 

Harris and Biden will be side-by-side in the second night debates, so we can expect more fireworks there. For the sake of comedy and comity, CNN might have considered placing New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioPlease bring back the old (pragmatic, centrist) Mike Bloomberg De Blasio to Buttigieg: 'Try to not be so smug when you just got your ass kicked' New York attorney general threatens to sue NYC over alleged taxi fraud MORE between them. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, the mayor would play a valuable role by being a human shield between the two combatants. Maybe Biden and Harris should debate in full pads too! 

Biden was tanned, rested but not ready to go for his last debate. We will find out Wednesday whether his performance in the first debate was just an aberration or whether he’s just lost his fastball after all the years of wear and tear.

A stage manger’s dream and a pollster’s delight, Harris’ assault against Biden was great political TV. It made her a first-tier candidate, raised questions about Biden and shook up the national surveys. Not a bad night’s work for the former prosecutor from the Great Bear republic.

Inventive, insult and innuendo

Round No. 2 should be more combative than the first go around. Leasing up to this round of debates, the candidates have been trading punches. Senator Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats' Obama-to-Sanders shift on charter schooling This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter MORE (D-N.J.) tried to imitate Harris’ success playing the race card when he called out Biden for being the “architect of mass incarceration” for his support of the Clinton anti-crime bill. Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardButtigieg notes diversity on debate stage: We're '7 white people talking about racial justice' Sanders grows lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Financial trade tax gains traction with 2020 Democrats MORE of Hawaii, who is a combat veteran, went after Harris for not having the military credentials to be Commander in Chief.

For his part, Biden is prepared to give as good as he got. Biden said this week that if they (Harris and Booker) “want to argue about the past, I can do that.” The former vice president’s problem is he has a lot more past to go after than either of the two senators. 

The Democratic National Committee has toughened the requirements for participation in the next round of debates, so desperation will be in the air. The contenders should expect lots of incoming from the pretenders. The air will be full of invective, insults and innuendo.

Don’t get too attached to the pretenders — the rest of the Democratic field — after this round of debates many of their Facebook status updates will revert to “Never heard of.” 

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.