Democratic Debate Preview

So the first Democratic presidential candidate debate, sponsored by CNN and Facebook, is about to begin. It’s hard to say what this debate will “feel” like. The format won’t differ (so far as we know) from the CNN-sponsored slugfest last month. But the substitution of Anderson Cooper for Jake Tapper as the chief moderator could make all the difference in the world since Cooper is expected to be much less likely to pose questions that require candidates to criticize each other or respond to previously articulated criticisms of themselves.

While the debate is expected to go for two hours, that’s significantly less grueling than the three-hour marathon the Republicans put on for CNN.

I won’t go too much into individual candidate expectations. Clinton has a reputation as a pretty good debater, and will need to maintain that reputation while getting a few memorable zingers on tape. Sanders needs to make a good first impression; most viewers will never had seen him other than in occasional clips.

The “also-rans” are quite likely to make the most noise. In the few moments of media attention he’s gotten up until now, Linc Chafee has delighted in contrasting his Senate voting record to Clinton’s, particularly with respect to the Iraq War. Martin O’Malley could well go after the closest object to him in the polls, Bernie Sanders. And Jim Webb has always been an odd duck capable of a strong performance or of a self-destructive statement of ideological heresy.

It should be refreshing to see five as opposed to ten or eleven candidates, and I personally enjoyed taking a brief nap and visiting with my wife the last couple of hours instead of watching an “undercard” event. So here we go.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.