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Setting the Debate Stage: The Historic Lineup and Point of It All

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And then there were…20!

Okay, with the recent addition of Joe Sestak, there are actually now 24 somewhat viable, if not just interesting, democratic presidential candidates to mull over. But the debates Wednesday and Thursday in Miami will showcase the top 20 contenders to climb to the top of the pile, and we as a country will get the chance to hear their equivalent of elevator pitches. The DNC’s method for managing this unruly crowd over a two-night spectacle ensures we’ll hear from each of them on equal footing, regardless of where on the polling hierarchy they’ve landed, so long as they met requirements to snag a podium spot.

In contrast to the GOP’s 2016 kiddie table stage, the Democrats have split the 20 qualifying candidates between the two nights by randomized selection, meaning members of the “B group” – a term coined by hopeful Amy Klobuchar – will have the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with those monopolizing the top of the polls. Each night will run about two hours with a tag-team crew of pundits, giving 10 candidates each night 120 minutes of airtime to make their play. Let’s be honest, the crowded field and stage won’t allow for in-depth responses and the true grit we want to see prior to casting our ballots, but it will provide each of the hopefuls enough time to make some sort of impression, especially on people who haven’t so far been following.

They’ll outline their platforms, be asked about policy preferences and likely be taken to task on some of their more controversial issues (a-hem, Biden and Buttigieg). The limited response times in this first round of debates won’t give the voting populace enough to really firm up choices, but it will give each candidate the opportunity to fail, and at the end of the day, this is a competition that requires winners and losers. Will Uncle Joe step in it? Will Bernie lose his temper? We shall see.

Democratic presidential primary candidates who qualified for the first round of debates. Photo compilation courtesy of InStyle.

Where we might see some movement after the showdown is in the “B group” – at least, that’s what they’re shooting for. There are some really compelling people forwarding big ideas who haven’t yet caught much traction – we’ll be looking at candidates like Julian Castro, Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard as they attempt to introduce themselves to the masses.

It’s easy to dismiss this point in the process given the sheer number of candidates, but most of the people standing on that debate stage have a long list of qualifications and something poignant to say. It’s our responsibility to listen.

The most amazing part of this whole circus is the historic moment it marks for diversity in the presidential field. There has never in the history of this country been a time like this where women, people of color and those from the LGBTQ community had just as much of a shot as the old white guy in the race. All the beautiful and different shades, genders and sexual orientations bring fresh perspectives and a glimmer of hope in these dark times and it is not a moment that should go unnoticed.

Grab your popcorn, shot glasses and Bingo cards, and tune in or set up the DVR for 7 p.m. PST. And remember, this is probably the most consequential election in your lifetime – get educated about the options and make your vote count.

It’s political playoff time, folks! Let’s go!

The Lineup

Wednesday, June 26:

  • Cory Booker
  • Bill de Blasio
  • Julián Castro
  • John Delaney
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Jay Inslee
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Tim Ryan
  • Elizabeth Warren

Thursday, June 27

  • Joe Biden
  • Michael Bennet
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Kirsten Gillibrand 
  • Kamala Harris
  • John Hickenlooper
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Eric Swalwell
  • Marianne Williamson
  • Andrew Yang
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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.