ANALYSIS: DFA’s three questions heading into Tuesday’s 2020 debate in Westerville, OH

Despite the dominance of the impeachment fight in Washington over the last month, the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination has entered a new phase since the candidates met in Houston last month.

While anything can happen with so many candidates on one stage, DFA’s Chair Charles Chamberlain and CEO Yvette Simpson have three main questions going into Tuesday’s debate outside Columbus, OH:

  1. Can Joe Biden temporarily halt the bleeding or will this debate be the final blow to his status as the 2020 front-runner?

    Between his weak fundraising in the third quarter, his late response to Donald Trump’s endless barrage of attacks, and uneven past debate performances, Joe Biden is walking into the Ohio debate a severely wounded front-runner. While the momentum in this contest will likely continue to build behind the leading progressive candidates, a strong performance could keep Biden’s backers in the Democratic political establishment from racing for the exits. Conversely, if the Joe Biden from either one of the first two debates shows up in Ohio, the former Vice President will likely lose his frontrunner status.
  2. Which candidate from the growing second-tier emerges from the debate best positioned to take advantage of Biden’s decent?


    While the top tier of candidates -- Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren -- has stayed relatively consistent throughout the summer, there’s been a lot of churn and growth in the tier of candidates at their heels. With Biden struggling to build momentum, it’s clear that parts of the Democratic political establishment are actively searching for an alternative to the former Vice President. That said, the path to that top-tier likely isn’t through the fall of one candidate, but by figuring out how to cobble together a coalition that includes the corporate Democrats searching for a candidate who can win without alienating Democrats’ ascendant progressive base. It’s a tall order, likely can’t be done in a single debate, and certainly won’t guarantee victory, but, if we had to guess, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker are best positioned to make these gains on Tuesday.

  3. Will this be the moment one of the two front-running progressive candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, begins consolidating grassroots support?


    While many in the media are spoiling for a fight between Sanders and Warren, it’d be a huge, surprising mistake for either to take the bait. As their healthy third-quarter fundraising hauls made clear, Warren and Sanders are well-served by working as a united front in these large-field debates, and we expect them to keep that strategy up in Ohio. That said, it will be interesting to see how Sanders and Warren work to continue to separate themselves from the field and grab for the growing number of grassroots voters who understand Democrats need to unequivocally embrace an inclusive populist agenda to win in 2020.

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