With candidates Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren leading the 2020 Democratic presidential race, Thursday’s debate will have all the major polling leaders together on one stage for the first time.
This is the third Democratic debate vying to take on President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the first hosted in Texas. Ten candidates will present their platforms during the three-hour debate in Houston.
Political science junior Sam Dennehy is attending the debate after winning a raffle from Texas College Democrats.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” he said. “It’s so close to home, I can’t not go.”
Dennehy, UTA’s University Democrats president, said he wants to see candidate Bernie Sanders and Warren’s dynamic play out on the stage.
“They’ll either both gang up on Biden, or they’ll go savagely against each other,” he said. “Either one of those is going to be a good fight to watch, and I’m glad I’ll be in the room.”
Political science professor Thomas Marshall said the debate may be a make-or-break for candidates from Texas.
Despite meeting polling and donor thresholds to qualify for the debate, candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro will need to jolt life into their waning campaigns.
“Is Beto even going to register much of a reaction?” he said. “So far, he really hasn’t.”
O’Rourke’s polling numbers currently have him near fifth place in the race, while Castro’s polling numbers place him near 10th.
Marshall said a major storyline going into the debate is seeing which candidates get strategically attacked on stage.
Generally, the frontrunner is targeted the most, as well as any rising candidate, he said.
“On the first debate it was Joe Biden,” he said. “I think Elizabeth Warren is going to get [jumped]. Anybody who is moving up is going to get jumped.”
Marshall said Biden and Warren may be the main targets, but Warren may also attack Sanders.
Candidates may also look to separate themselves from the field with punchy lines, Marshall said.
“That may seem trivial, but Kamala Harris in her first debate surged a little bit, and the only reason I can figure out is she had a good, punchy line,” he said.
During a heated interaction between Biden and candidate Eric Swalwell, Harris said “America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.”
Marshall said candidates are currently trying to appeal to more hardcore Democrats and therefore need a breakthrough moment on the crowded stage with overlapping campaign messages.
“That may just be in their zinger,” he said.
Marshall said a major gaffe by a candidate could have the most lasting impact for the field, and that proved true during the 2012 Republican debates.
Marshall said Rick Perry began the 2012 presidential race as an early front-runner before his gaffe during the Nov. 9 debate.
Perry was asked to name three federal agencies he would abolish.
“I think he named two of them and then stalled,” Marshall said. “I don’t think he ever came back from that.”
Marshall said that other than a major misstep by a candidate, the field may still be too large to create decisive moments.