Only six Democratic presidential hopefuls qualified for Tuesday night’s televised debate in Iowa, with less than a month until the caucuses in that state on Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 11.
December’s debate saw new policy areas introduced into the conversation, a pointed exchange between then-South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over fundraising events and a widely praised performance from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Since then, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have dropped out of the race.
New York tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang fell short of the polling thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee to make it on stage Tuesday night, while California billionaire Tom Steyer squeaked by with the two early-state polls necessary last week, taking more than the 5 percent required in South Carolina and Nevada.
As the candidates prepared for the debate, CNN broke a story Monday from unnamed sources claiming that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont privately told Warren that a woman could not beat President Donald Trump in 2020. The previously unreported exchange — which Sanders denies involved gender as a disqualifier — came when the two met in 2018 to discuss the possibility of running against each other in the primary.
Sanders responded in a statement claiming the sources were lying. In a statement later Monday, Warren said the two senators had discussed the possibility of Democrats nominating a woman. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said.
That, coupled with reports of Sanders volunteers delivering sharp critiques of Warren when going door-to-door in Iowa, has marked the first signs of a potential fraying in the two progressives’ friendship.
The Sanders-Warren tensions, along with the recent escalations between the United States and Iran, are two key dynamics that could shape the latest debate, according to Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
“Typically, debates — and they’re important to me — tend to be overrated,” Scala told The Sentinel Monday. “But this one might stand a better chance of living up to its billing than most, given its proximity to [Iowa and New Hampshire voting].”
More professor’s notes from Scala and a primer on each candidate are below. (New Hampshire polling averages are from the RealClear politics algorithm.)
Background: Billionaire investor from California and founder of NextGen America, a nonprofit group pushing for environmental and voting-rights reform
Visits to the region this cycle: One, a disability policy forum at the Crotched Mountain School in Greenfield in December
N.H. polling average: 3 percent (+0.3 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “I don’t think the reason he’s doing as well as he is in South Carolina and in Nevada has to do as much with his debate performance as compared to basically having a monopoly on paid advertising in those two states,” Scala said. “Given that ... this could be an opportunity to present himself as, look, this [bickering] is just what you don’t like about politics, and I’m something different.”
Background: Senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts; previously a Harvard Law School professor of bankruptcy law and adviser to federal oversight programs
Visits to the region this cycle: Four, a Keene State College town hall in April, a packed rally at the Peterborough Town House in July, a return to Keene State in September and a bowling alley rally at Bowling Acres in Peterborough last month
Pod Free or Die bonus: On The Sentinel’s politics podcast, Warren discussed her wealth tax, the war in Afghanistan and why she doesn’t listen to advice about raising money. She returned last month to pick up on the wealth tax.
N.H. polling average: 17 percent (+6.3 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “I expect she’ll be getting some questions that will invite her to take a swipe at Sanders,” Scala said. “It’ll be interesting to watch how she takes advantage of that in her response in a way that, how can she be critical of Sanders without herself sounding divisive and not living up to her reputation, or the reputation she would like, as a unifier? ... And gender plays a role here too.”
Background: Former vice president; ran for president in 1988 and 2008 and was a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973-2009
Pod Free or Die bonus: Biden gamed out a potential recession, his foreign policy views and how the country has changed since he left the White House
N.H. polling average: 23.3 percent (+9 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “This could be an evening with a lot of foreign policy questions, and if so, he could stand to benefit,” Scala said. “That should be a strong point for him. I don’t think he would mind, necessarily, mixing it up with Sanders on that.”
Background: Junior U.S. senator from Vermont, formerly the at-large congressman for Vermont and mayor of Burlington; runner-up in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary; remains an independent but caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate
Visits to the region this cycle: Four, a full-house rally at The Colonial Theatre in Keene in March, another packed rally at the Peterborough Town House in September, an October rally at Keene State College and a holiday party at Stonewall Farm in Keene in December
Pod Free or Die bonus: From his campaign suite at the N.H. Democratic Party Convention, Sanders talked about foreign policy and what he wants his legacy to be
N.H. polling average: 22.3 percent (+3.3 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “Sanders now has enjoyed a good month of strong publicity, culminating with his narrow first-place standing [in Iowa] in the Des Moines Register poll,” Scala said. “It’s his turn to be in the hot seat.”
Background: Former mayor of South Bend, Ind.; served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves. Buttigieg is a former Rhodes scholar and would be the first openly gay president.
Visits to the region this cycle: Six, once in February at the Orchard School and Community Center in Alstead before declaring his candidacy, then as an official candidate in May at Keene High School and an August house party in Hancock. He brought huge crowds to the Peterborough Town House in October, the Walpole Elementary School in November and The Colonial Theatre in Keene in January.
Pod Free or Die bonus: Buttigieg talked about his Medicare For All Who Want It health care plan, how Americans compartmentalize the military’s sacrifice abroad and what he thinks of being compared to French President Emmanuel Macron.
N.H. polling average: 13.3 percent (-4.4 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “A positive outcome would be not being the focus of negative attention,” Scala said. “But being able to go back to being a voice of a new generation, staying above the fray, not having to be in the glare as much as he was last time ... the more attention that goes to Warren and Sanders, the more he can pivot off of that.”
Background: The senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, Klobuchar was the Hennepin County attorney before becoming the first woman elected to one of Minnesota’s Senate seats.
Visits to the region this cycle: Six. She made an April visit to Peterborough’s Waterhouse Restaurant, gave a May address as the keynote speaker of the Cheshire County Democrats’ annual spaghetti dinner in Keene, made an August stop in Greenfield for the Hillsborough County Democrats’ Summer Picnic and participated in a business roundtable followed by a Q&A town hall at Stonewall Farm in Keene. In October, she met with a Keene State College political science class and then held her biggest rally in the region so far at Keene High School in December.
N.H. polling average: 5 percent (+3 since the December debate)
Professor’s note: “She can turn and present herself as the pragmatist, someone who has policy ideas, but they’re more moderate, they’re more realistic,” Scala said. “I think she’ll spend more time going after Buttigieg, which seemed to work last time ... She can’t blend in with the wallpaper tonight. She’s gotta make a good impression.”
The candidates are listed in the order they will appear, left to right, on stage in Tuesday night’s debate.