What to watch in the debate tonight
Just like a never ending rerun of “I Love Lucy,” the television selection for the country tonight offers yet another episode of the Democratic debate. The supporting characters always come and go, but everything else looks and sounds pretty much the same. Except that the debate in Las Vegas does offer some potential twists and turns to watch for.
First, Mike Bloomberg will make his debut. He takes his place on the stage just as his place in national polls is on the rise. The challenge is that it is much easier getting to the top than staying there. Bloomberg is the perfect foil for Sanders and the ire against capitalism, and he is currently drawing votes from the moderate wing of the party. This means he will be a target of everyone on stage. Tonight, for the first time, he goes face to face with them. His strategic objective is to leave unscathed.
Second, candidates will try to blunt Bernie Sanders. He is the front runner based on Iowa and New Hampshire, which is also like saying the Mets are likely to win the World Series based on pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training last week. A convincing victory in Nevada will solidify his status going into Super Tuesday in two weeks. Expect his opponents to remind us about the 155 million Americans who could be forced off their private insurance policies under “Medicare For All,” which is a particularly unpopular idea with the important culinary workers union in Nevada.
Third, is there still momentum for Amy Klobuchar? In politics, timing is everything, and she has demonstrated how to play the clock. Klobuchar is surging at just the right time, particularly after her standout performance in the last debate. The objective for her opponents is to stop her forward momentum before it is too late. Remember Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere to win their nominations.
Fourth, is Joe Biden back and “Berra” than ever? Baseball legend Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” For opponents of Biden, they are asking, “Is now a good time?” Biden needs strong showings in Nevada and South Carolina to stay viable. As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt reminded us this week, John McCain entered the 2008 race “as a potential front runner, only to struggle” but nonetheless won the nomination. For full disclosure, my name appears on a delegate petition for Biden in New York and I have donated to his campaign.
Finally, this town is simply not big enough for two mayors. Pete Buttigieg has owned the brand on the campaign trail of a moderate mayor who can solve problems. However, the population of South Bend is about half the population of the South Bronx. Mayor Pete has an imperative to maintain his impressive vote share and not lose brand or votes to Mayor Mike.
So tune in to the debate tonight. Or you can try Doctor Pimple Popper on the Learning Channel. There, a knife in the back works out just fine.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.