• Desperate Dems Hoping for Breakout, Not Knockout in Debates, Round Two

    Surge Summary: Round Two of the Democratic Presidential Primary debates offers some of the lesser known candidates a, perhaps, final chance to break out of the pack.

    With the second round of Democratic debates upon us, some candidates are desperate to make an impact

    The showings, scheduled for last night and Wednesday evenings in Detroit, offer a final chance for some of them to break out of the capacious field’s lower tiers.

    Courtesy of The Hill’s Niall Stanage:

    Among the top candidates, the verbal punches will fly thick and fast as the big names vie for an advantage at the last big event before the campaign quietens down for much of August.

    Referencing the violent, dystopian third installment in the Mad Max film series, one Democratic strategist unaligned with any presidential candidate quipped,

    “It’s going to be like Thunderdome. Ten come in, but who knows how many come out?”

    Ten, in fact, are slated for each night, all of it televised by CNN.

    Although former Vice President Joe Biden remains the race’s front-runner his dominance has shriveled considerably since the first pair of debates, and it appears the three challengers best positioned to overtake him are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris(D-Calif.).

    In Miami’s first round last month, Biden stumbled. He was criticized harshly, especially by Harris, for his opposition to 1970s federally mandated school busing and for his remarks about his cordial dealings with Southern segregationist senators of a previous era.

    Biden sank in the polls, while, at the same time, the California senator rose markedly.

    Biden will have to register a much-improved performance Wednesday evening to stave off “full-on panic” from his supporters.

    Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky, asked if she still considers the former vice president to be the leading candidate, replied, “Today. But I don’t know how many more debate performances where he is not hitting it out of the park he can absorb.”

    Biden aides have indicated that they will take a more aggressive line against attacks, however. The candidate himself seems to understand the stakes.

    “I’m not going to be as polite this time,” he told supporters at a fundraiser Wednesday.

    Biden supporters agree he needs to put on display more forcefulness. He’s interviewing before the American people, after all, for the role of squaring off against President Donald Trump in November 2020.

    On either side of Biden on Wednesday will be Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the two major African American candidates in the race, who’ve both outspokenly criticized the erstwhile VP.

    Booker and Biden have revealed a willingness to go after one another.  Will that pattern make an appearance on Wednesday? It’s likely.

    Booker raised the issue of Biden’s support for a controversial 1994 crime bill last week after the former vice president released his new plan for criminal justice reform.

    “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it,” Booker said in a statement.

    Team Biden slammed back.

    Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, accused Booker of making “specious charges” and said that he had “some hard questions to answer” about his own past positions on policing — including a “zero tolerance” approach Bedingfield said Booker supported while mayor of Newark, N.J.

    Despite his high profile, Booker, as with many of the crowded field’s Dem aspirants, has been struggling in the race. It was only Monday morning, for example, that the New Jersey politician’s campaign announced he’d met the criteria to qualify for phase three of debates, slotted for September.

    Thus, seven candidates are currently looking not just toward round two’s meetings, but the third installments as well: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris and Booker, plus South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

    Booker, O’Rourke or any number of more marginal candidates could come out swinging on Tuesday or Wednesday.

    But there is also the danger that such attacks could backfire.

    “It depends where you’re at,” said Joe Trippi, who was former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign manager in 2004. “If you are at 1 percent in the polls, then unless you get attention, it’s all over. On the other hand, pouring gasoline around and lighting a match is not likely to work either.”

    Still, writes Stanage, “this week’s debates are a do-or-die moment for some.”

     “[T]his will be the last time I think we will see a third to a half of this group,” predicted Mitchell McKinney, the director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.

    Strategy, plainly, will play a definitive part in the back-and-forths between the White House hopefuls. Should the candidates confine their barbs only to rivals on stage with them on their respective nights or keep in their sights those debating the other evening?

    Sanders and Warren are the two highest-polling candidates debating on Tuesday, raising the possibility that their clash could become a struggle for primacy among left-leaning voters.

    But their presence together could also give Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) a chance to contrast the Sanders-Warren agenda with her own, much more centrist platform.

    Although, frankly, centrism doesn’t seem to be terrifically popular with the most visible Democratic ballot-casters these days. Is there a silent, Donkey Party majority aching for more moderate choices?

    The importance of the debates in Detroit could also be magnified because they come at a time when the flow of other political news is beginning to slow.

    It could be meaningful that the House of Representatives is already in recess and the Senate just one week away from its break.

    That could mean the battlefield is open for the Democratic presidential candidates to directly focus their fire on Donald Trump — or to stick with sniping at each other.

    “Get your popcorn,” advised Trippi. “There’ll be fireworks from somewhere.”

    Image: Adapted from David Bailey from Pixabay 

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