Tonight’s the last debate before the Iowa caucuses next month. Here are the key dynamics to watch for among the six Democrats on stage.
January Democratic Debate: Final One Before the First Votes
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
When it starts Tuesday, Jan. 14, 9 p.m. ET
Where to watch CNN.com, CNN, CNN International, CNN en Español and DesMoinesRegister.com
Six Democrats will debate in Des Moines tonight — the smallest stage yet — as the 2020 presidential race remains fluid, with Iowa, in particular, up for grabs less than three weeks before the caucuses. Here are the dynamics to watch in the final debate before voting begins:
How Will Warren and Sanders Engage?
A day before the debate, CNN reported an explosive story: That Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had told Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in a private meeting in December 2018 that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency. Mr. Sanders denied this on Monday, only to have Ms. Warren come forward and say that he did make the remark. Chances are this will be one of the hottest topics tonight — and the resulting exchange could affect the standing of two liberals, especially in Iowa, where Democratic voters often prefer candidates to stay positive.
Center of Attention, at Last?
Will the national front-runner finally get a front-runner’s scrutiny? For months, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been on center stage, but not the center of attention of his rivals, many of whom have been content to wait for political gravity — or someone else — to pull him down. With voters making their choices soon, Mr. Biden remains a barrier for everyone else who hopes to become the nominee — a factor that could lead to his longest, and perhaps toughest, turn in the spotlight in months.
A Full-Blown Iraq Debate?
These two seemingly have had the most momentum in recent weeks and could be on a collision course. Since the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, foreign policy has dominated the news, as open war with Iran suddenly seemed a possibility. Mr. Sanders has unsuccessfully tried to nudge Mr. Biden’s past vote for the war in Iraq into the 2020 conversation, but with the new international backdrop, that history could receive more attention.
The Two Women on Stage
For the first time, every Democrat on the debate stage is white, and the representation of diversity tonight will come from the two remaining women in the race. Female voters make up a majority of the Democratic Party, and female candidates performed particularly well in the 2018 primary midterms. Still, neither Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota nor Ms. Warren has put gender at the forefront of her campaign. That could change Tuesday, especially for Ms. Warren, who likely will be asked about the private comments she has attributed to Mr. Sanders.
The Biden Alternative vs. Biden
Pete Buttigieg’s campaign strategy has been plain to see in recent months: Position himself as the moderate, next-generation alternative to Mr. Biden — while going after more liberal opponents rather than Mr. Biden himself. Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is one of the more deft debaters onstage. With Mr. Biden still strong in the polls, does Mr. Buttigieg turn his fire on him (and, in particular, join the Iraq war debate that Mr. Sanders has previously instigated)?
The Mod Trio
These candidates — Mr. Biden, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar — are all fishing in the same pond of moderate and mostly older voters in Iowa. (Meanwhile, the progressive lane is split only in two.) Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg clashed at the December debate over experience — his in local government, hers in Washington — but more often this grouping has seen the most advantage in drawing a contrast with the leading liberals onstage, rather than each other. Does that change?
Bankruptcy Bill, Finally?
A week before the debate, Ms. Warren rolled out a bankruptcy plan, reviving an old fight over consumer protections against the credit card industry in 2005 with Mr. Biden that helped push her into politics. But despite the bankruptcy bill’s key role in her origin story, she has never brought it up at a debate. Is this the time and issue she has been waiting to leverage to make her case for change?
The Lone Billionaire Onstage
Billionaire Tom Steyer squeaked onto the debate with late polling strength in Nevada and South Carolina, and in past clashes, he has been relegated more to the periphery. The question for him is how he can make himself relevant — in the debate and in the contest — especially as another billionaire, Michael R. Bloomberg, is spending far more than him while focused on Super Tuesday states and looming offstage.