2020·4 min read

October Democratic debate: What to watch for

Primary Debates
Oct 15, 2019

The Story 

Just when the Democratic debates were running out of new debate topics...there’s an impeachment inquiry to talk about.

Back up. How...many...Democratic...debates...

12. This one’s the fourth. It’s going down on Tuesday, Oct 15 at 8pm ET in Ohio. CNN and The New York Times (read: Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett and the NYT’s national editor Marc Lacey) are co-hosting. You can watch on CNN or via their websites (you’re welcome). 

Other than that, can I expect the recurring cast of presidential wannabes?

Yes, the 10 from last month’s debate plus two others. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) – who didn’t qualify in September – is back to remind you she’s one of the few with military experience. Oh, and billionaire Tom Steyer is making his debate stage debut. Steyer made his money by launching a hedge fund and spent some of it (millions) on Democratic causes. His main issues are climate change and...wait for it...impeaching President Trump.

So, 12 people. On a stage. Talking at each other.

Correct. It’s the most people we’ve seen at once so far this year. 

I’m ready to talk about impeachment now. 

Then let’s catch you up: the Dems have been dropping the ‘impeachment’ idea for a while now. But last month, it came out that Trump urged Ukraine’s president to investigate a political opponent – former VP Joe Biden. This was over Biden’s 2016 push to fire a top Ukrainian prosecutor he and the EU saw as corrupt. The prosecutor had been looking into a company Biden’s son was on the board of. Cue Trump urging Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden about this...all while withholding close to $400 million in aid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry. More than 90% of House Dems say they’re on board with the inquiry.

What’s the status update?

The House is issuing subpoenas. Here’s what the full process looks like.

What should I look out for at the debate?

Biden, Biden, and how people react to Biden. As a Dem frontrunner, he’s been a major target in previous debates. On the one hand, the rest of the Dem candidates could be looking forward to him getting questioned on all this. On the other hand, Biden will probably say there’s nothing to the story. And no one on that stage wants to side with Trump over encouraging a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. So it’ll be interesting to see who goes hard on Biden this time, and how much attacking they’re willing to do.

There are 11 other people on this stage. Surely it’s not all about Biden.

It’s not. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has started to lead in some polls. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been recovering from a heart attack earlier this month. Meanwhile, candidates have been rolling out plans on everything from gun control to poverty alleviation. So they’ll want airtime for that. Meanwhile, the US and Japan have reached a trade deal. Trump has been shaking up foreign policy in Syria. Protests haven’t let up in Hong Kong. Health care and immigration dominated the last debates. So it’s not like impeachment is the only topic out there.

Speaking of the last debates, any other plot points I should know?

The whole moderate-versus-progressive thing has been a big play. There’s a tug-of-war between those promising free things (college, health care) and those who are saying 'how do you plan on paying for that?' If you want all the recaps, we covered them here, here, here, here, and *catches breath* here.

And if I wanted to do a deep dive on all the candidates…

You know we have your back. Here’s the full list in order of who you’ll see from left to right:  Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Julián Castro. Have at it.


The stakes for this debate are especially high for Biden, given the growing momentum for Warren and mounting attacks from Trump. “SNL” did a piece on what an impeachment town hall might look like. Now it’s time to see how closely life imitates art. 

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