2020·4 min read

November Democratic Primary Debate: What to Watch For

Primary Debates
Nov 19, 2019

The Story

The next round of the Democratic presidential debates are here. 

Another one?

Yep. This one’s lucky number five. Ten candidates have qualified and are trying to win your support to become the Democratic nominee. 

Ok, gimme the details.

It’s going down in Atlanta at the new Tyler Perry Studios (yep, that Tyler Perry). MSNBC and The Washington Post are hosting. You can stream live on Nov. 20, starting at 9pm ET at MSNBC.com and WashingtonPost.com. 

How’s this one different from the previous debates?

This one’s only two hours—the shortest yet. Plus, this time around the moderating panel is all women. MSNBC anchors Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell will be there, along with NBC News’ White House Correspondent, Kristen Welker, and The Washington Post’s White House reporter Ashley Parker

NBC is a little messy right now, isn’t it?

You could say that. Last month, Ronan Farrow released his book “Catch and Kill” that ramped up scrutiny on the network for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Farrow’s reporting has put NBC on the offensive and has caused its own employees (think: Rachel Maddow) to call out her own network for the alleged mishandling. 

And this relates to the debate how?

Maddow is hosting so there’s that. Plus, last month, a women’s advocacy group called on the DNC to cancel its debate with MSNBC citing its lack of clear support of sexual abuse survivors. TBD if issues like workplace harassment, equal pay, or #MeToo will be discussed on the stage. But yep, tensions at the network are high. 

Behind-the-scenes drama? Check. Who will be there for on-the-stage drama?

Last debate, a dozen candidates battled over impeachment and Turkey. This time around, the field has narrowed with 10 candidates qualifying:

To make it on the stage this time, candidates had to hit national polling thresholds and have strong grassroots fundraising numbers. The big name not on the RSVP list this time around? Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

So 10 people, talking at each other, for two hours. 

Yep. It’s being broken down into four parts with three commercial breaks. There’s no opening statements, and candidates get 1 min and 15 seconds for closing arguments. 

Ok, what else should I know?

Starts with a “p” and ends with “olls”.  You’re going to be hearing a lot about them in the upcoming months and they’re top of mind for all the candidates. Here’s your breakdown:

Democrat v. Democrat: 

  • The frontrunner race is narrowing. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are doing the one-two dance in the national polls. Reminder: Biden is leaning into the moderate wing of the party, and Warren, is doing the opposite. Since Summer, Biden’s lead over Warren in the polls has been cut in half, bringing the front-runner race closer and closer together. Coming in behind Warren for the number 3 spot is Bernie Sanders. All eyes will be on these three as the progressive v. moderate wing of the Democratic party storyline continues to play out. 

  • Also in the Dem v. Dem polls conversation: Pete Buttigieg. He’s leading polls in Iowa, a battleground state that’s a BFD in the primary race. 

Trump v. Everyone Else:

  • Whoever becomes the Dem nominee will have to take on Trump. As voters come closer to a decision, the question about whether candidates can beat Trump is top of mind. According to a recent New York Times survey in a handful of states, if a general election were held: Trump would beat Warren; lose to Biden; and tie with Sanders. Pay attention to candidates putting on their ‘I could beat Trump’ hats and playing into their electability factor.

[Related: We surveyed millennial women one year out from the election. Here’s how they feel about the election, the candidates, and big issues like healthcare, and immigration.]

Trump v. The Law:

  • The pollsters are working their magic to find out where America stands on the Trump impeachment inquiry. Since the hearings have started, polls show that Americans are still 50/50 on whether they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Keep an eye out for the ‘I word’ in the debate.


Say it with us: I-O-W-A. The caucuses are kicking off in February and are top of mind for the remaining candidates and their campaigns. The pollsters are hard at work getting a pulse check on the country and voters are starting to figure out who they’re giving their golden ticket to ahead of the primaries. It’s crunch time. Expect more talking over each other, a narrowing field, and full speed ahead from here on out. 

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