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Democratic Debate Lineup: Sanders And Biden To Face Off

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on June 14, 2019 8:25 pm

The lineups are set for the first Democratic presidential primary debates.

Among the debate matchups: Former Vice President Joe Biden, currently leading in primary polls nationally, will face off against Vermont senator and 2016 candidate Bernie Sanders, as well as California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will face New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Owing to the massive field of candidates, the DNC has spread the field across two, two-hour debates on June 26-27. It also made sure to split the candidates with the highest poll numbers evenly across both nights, to avoid a "kids table" debate situation. The Republican Party faced that criticism in its 2016 primary debates, when it put the lower-polling candidates in a separate debate from the higher-polling candidates.

Candidates for the June 26 debate: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Candidates for the June 27 debate: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; California Sen. Kamala Harris; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; writer and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

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To qualify for the debates, candidates had to amass 65,000 donors, spread across 20 states, or they had to get at least 1% support across three national or early-state polls.

Of the 23 major Democratic candidates, three did not qualify: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam; and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton. Bullock on Thursday sent a letter to the DNC arguing that he did qualify, but the DNC has not changed its lineup.

The lineups were set by a manual drawing at NBC News headquarters in New York with a representative of each campaign present, the network said. After the groups were drawn, NBC decided who would go on which night. Their placements onstage will be decided later, based on polling.

The debates will air on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo at 9 p.m. ET on both nights.

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There are so many Democrats running for president that, when they meet to debate at the end of this month in Miami, they will be split up over two nights. Today we learned which candidates will actually meet face-to-face on which night. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is covering the 2020 campaign. Hey, Danielle.


KELLY: So how did they decide which town we're going to be on, which stage, which night?

KURTZLEBEN: All right, so a quick recap. In order to even get to the stage, candidates had to get 65,000 donors or hit 1% across three polls, whether in early states or nationally.


KURTZLEBEN: Now, of those 20, the Democratic Party and NBC, who's hosting the debate, they had to figure out, OK, how do we split these people up? They were trying to avoid things being off-balance.

KELLY: Right, all the front-runners on one night.

KURTZLEBEN: Correct, yeah. So they took the eight candidates who were polling at above 2%, which is not a huge threshold. And they split them four and four across the two nights. Then they split up the rest.

To do all of that splitting up, they drew at random. And that random drawing, it just so happened that it ended up putting four of the five best-polling candidates on that second night, which leaves Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren the highest-polling candidate by a fair shot on that first night.

The goal, like we were just saying, was to avoid what the Republicans did in 2016. They had the sort of main stage debate. And then they had what ended up derisively being called kiddie table debate that, you know, happened otherwise.

KELLY: On the other night, Yeah.


KELLY: OK. So I'm going to put you through a kind of speed dating thing here.

KURTZLEBEN: Let's do this.

KELLY: You ready? I want you just to tell us everybody. Night one - go.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. So the first night, June 26, you have Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Representative Beto O'Rourke of Texas, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Maryland Representative John Delaney, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

KELLY: Night one. OK. Catch your breath. Deep breath here.


KELLY: Night two - we carry on with the speed dating.

KURTZLEBEN: OK. So we have Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Kamala Harris of California, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Michael Bennet - he's from Colorado - author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson, California Representative Eric Swalwell, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Colorado - former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

KELLY: You're making me realize that if they don't speak as quickly as you do, it's going to take them all night just to introduce everybody.

KURTZLEBEN: That's an excellent point, yeah. I mean, they aren't going to have much time to talk.

KELLY: I mean, and we do note that night two, you've got Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all on that stage. But beyond the front-runners, what about the lesser-known candidates who you just named? This is a big opportunity for them.

KURTZLEBEN: It totally is. I mean, for a lot of voters, this is their introduction to a lot of these candidates. And, you know, every year, these debates create memorable moments. Think about 2015, 2016. Carly Fiorina got a polling bump from some of those early debates. Chris Christie and Marco Rubio sniping at each other - those things are things people remember.

So this is an opportunity for people who are polling towards the bottom to make us make a splash. And this depends on - this could depend on what night these people are on. One campaign was telling me today, you know, being on that first night where former Vice President Joe Biden is not means you have more oxygen. You have more room to really get your message out there.

And one other thing I think - one other thing I'll be looking for is what - how this affects the substance. You have people like Washington Governor Jay Inslee. He has made climate change most of his campaign. He's on that first night. I wonder how much that could affect the debate on the first night.

KELLY: And you must be kind of excited, as somebody covering this, to finally get to see them all gathered in one place, even if it's over two nights.

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. And for a lot of voters, this is the first time they'll see even some of the better-known candidates.

KELLY: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

KELLY: And for more depth on all the candidates, you can head on over to Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.