Tuesday night’s debate lineup from top left: Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bottom row from left: Former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tim Ryan, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and Gov. Jay Inslee.
Ten candidates plan to take to the debate stage tonight in Miami, Florida. And only one of them is polling above 5 percent in the state.
A poll conducted this month by ClimateNexus, an advocacy group focused on highlighting the impacts of climate change, places Warren as the first choice candidate for 10 percent of Florida voters. The rest of the pack are polling between 0 and 2 percent. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is polling at 1 percent.
Tonight, Warren will literally be center stage, fresh off a surge in the polls nationally; and the candidate to beat.
In addition to Klobuchar and Warren, tonight’s debate will feature: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former HUD secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH).
Klobuchar has campaigned on being a “Heartland Democrat,” someone who can win the Midwest. The first test of that is Iowa, a test of whether she can convince Democratic primary campaign voters that she is that candidate. The most recent Des Moines Register poll puts her as the first choice for only 2 percent of caucus voters — compared to 24 percent for Joe Biden, 16 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders, 15 percent for Warren 15, and 14 percent for Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“I think I have to come in that top five, six. But I’m number six,” Klobuchar told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff. “And that means I’m ahead of 18 people. So I’m a glass-half-full person.”
Klobuchar is also currently trailing in Minnesota as well. Change Research earlier this month found Elizabeth Warren at 21 percent, Biden at 20 percent, and Sanders at 19 percent. Klobuchar is currently polling in fourth in her home state, at 16 percent.
The debate will be, in part, a test of whether or not she can gain more ground around the country and push forward in the pack. Justin Buoen, Klobuchar’s campaign manager, told the Star Tribune: “She will focus on telling her story and outlining her vision for tackling our country’s biggest challenges with urgent action.”
Some things I’ll be looking for:
If Klobuchar again describes herself as a “proven progressive,” how will she reconcile her disapproval of positions like those held by Warren, who is calling for things like eliminating student debt? Will she challenge Warren or Castro on the merits of their plans to eliminate student debt?
Similarly, will any other candidate use Klobuchar’s restraint and moderation as a foil in order to justify their own policy platform? For example, how will her climate change policy priorities stack up against Jay Inslee, who’s made climate change a central tenet of his campaign? Or Castro, who has by far the most comprehensive immigration platform?
Will she spend most of her time discussing her priorities — specifically infrastructure and dealing with opioid abuse — or will she be sidetracked into debating other policy areas?
Klobuchar’s made the case that someone like her is needed to win back the “Heartland,” but this debate is for all Democratic primary voters. Will she expand that case to coastal Democrats, or simply suggest that they should put aside their policy priorities and back her in order to win back the Midwest and the presidency?
The guests Klobuchar is bringing tonight may signal her intent to discuss her policy priorities. Her three guests are: Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son Alec passed away after having to ration his insulin; Shelly Elkington, who lost her daughter to an opioid overdose; and Fran Parr of Pacific Junction, Iowa, whose home was damaged during the recent flooding.
Tonight’s debate will air live on NBC and be streamed on the network’s digital services, including NBCNews.com and MSNBC.com, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m Central.
I’ll also be tweeting during the debate — follow along at @gabemschneider.