Five Things to Look for in the Third Democratic Presidential Debate

Ten candidates take the stage on Sept. 12 in Houston.

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September 06, 2019

The third Democratic primary debate for the 2020 presidential election will take place in Houston on Thursday—with only 10 of the 20 candidates seeking the party’s nomination participating.

Todd Belt, director of the Political Management Program at the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, shared with GW Today themes viewers should keep in mind during the next debate, which will be broadcast on ABC and Univision starting at 8 p.m. EDT.

1.  Who has the best ideas for the country?

Too often, the media fixates on who is ahead and behind instead of who has the best ideas. Of course, winning matters, but winners often take good ideas from challengers who gave them a good run in the primaries. Ultimately, the question a candidate will have to answer in a general election against President Donald Trump is: Why are your plans better for the country?  Elections are about the future, so plans matter.

But of course, you can’t enact a plan unless you win.

2.  Can Elizabeth Warren continue her surge?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has built strong and steady support since the beginning of the year. She has a plan for seemingly every policy problem, and voters seem attracted to her ideas. She has peeled support away from fellow senator, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), which leads to the next thing to watch…

3.  Can Mr. Sanders turn things around?

Ms. Warren promises “big structural change” to the capitalist economy compared to Mr. Sanders, who calls for a “revolution” in how our economy is structured. To date, Ms. Warren’s more detailed plans have helped her make inroads with former Sanders voters. Mr. Sanders has fallen to third in many polls and needs a new infusion of energy into his campaign if he is to keep pace with Warren and Joe Biden. While Ms. Warren is soaring, Mr. Biden seems to be slightly sputtering.

4.  Can Mr. Biden maintain his front-runner status?  

The former vice president has made a number of gaffes while out campaigning, yet he’s still the front runner. Will he be able to recover from these with a strong debate performance, or will the gaffes continue and cause voters to worry about the 76 year old’s fitness for office, opening the door for other candidates? If the latter, are we destined for Ms. Warren or Mr. Sanders, or someone else?

5.  Will anyone join Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren in the top tier?

Can Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) recapture her spark from the first debate that only resulted in a sugar-high in the polls? Can former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg recover from underwhelming debate performances to stick out in the crowd? Will Sen. Corey Booker (N.J.) make a surge? Or will another candidate make a run? 

Tune in and see!

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