The Republican presidential candidates, all 100 of them, have battled twice onstage, and those debates were everything you’d want them to be: tons of shade, side-eyeing and verbal elbowing in the race to become the party’s nominee. On Tuesday night, the Las Vegas stage is set for the CNN-hosted, first Democratic presidential debate, and, well, here is hoping that these candidates show up and show out.
Below are five things you need to watch for as the five Democratic presidential hopefuls vie for the top spot on their party’s ticket.
Can Hillary Clinton Shake the Controversy Surrounding Her Campaign?
Clinton has been the clear-cut leader since she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. However, since then, Clinton has found herself shrouded in scandal over her use of a personal email account at the State Department, and her poll numbers have dropped. In Tuesday night’s debate, Clinton needs to remind us why we fell in love in the first place. She needs to command the stage and separate herself from the pack by being clear, honest and concise. Wouldn’t hurt if she had a few jokes in the bag to help her appear less staunch, but at this point, she just needs to make us remember who she used to be and get back to being that. America has continually proved one thing: If we loved you before, we can love you again.
Can Bernie Sanders Move From Being the Cool Physics Teacher to President?
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the cool high school physics teacher who hooks his students’ attention with his wit and smarts. But this ain’t physics, and in order for Sanders, a left-wing darling endorsed and championed by Cornel West, to keep his buzz growing, he will have to look and sound the part. Sanders built his base by focusing on two issues that are ripe in this country: race and class.
In Tuesday night’s debate, he will have to reach beyond his comfort topics and show that his smarts can carry over into all matters presidential. At 74, Sanders is the oldest presidential hopeful, and he will have his work cut out for him to remind America that he is still a vigorous man with fresh ideas beyond his proven depth of knowledge.
Can Martin O’Malley Do Anything to Make Himself Relevant?
This is O’Malley’s moment. Since announcing his run for the presidency, the former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore has been snapped looking presidential. There are countless photos of him giving speeches doing the presidential finger point. More important, there is this photo of him working out and reading his iPad.
He has been the one nominee who has been critical of Clinton and complained that there needs to be more than six Democratic presidential debates. Polling far behind both Clinton and Sanders, if O’Malley is going to make a run for the nomination, he can’t waste any time. To steal the spotlight, he must be aggressive from the outset and clearly separate himself from the pack. And he knows it. He told ABC News that he intends to separate himself in these debates by leaning on his 15 years of executive experience.
“This will really be the first time that nationally, voters see that there’s more than one alternative to this year’s inevitable front-runner, Secretary Clinton,” O'Malley said. “It’s a very, very important opportunity for me to not only present my vision for where the country should head, but also 15 years of executive experience, actually accomplishing the progressive things some of the other candidates can only talk about.”
Can Lincoln Chafee and/or Jim Webb “Fiorina” Their Way Into the Discussion?
In the first Republican debate, Carly Fiorina was at the kiddie table—the overflow room to catch all the other Republican nominees whose last names weren’t Trump, Carson, Rubio or Kasich. After a marvelous performance in her first debate, Fiorina was called up from the minors and took her first shot in the majors. It was a Hollywood rise for the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who has since taken a hit with her position on Planned Parenthood. Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb need to take a page from Fiorina Chapter 1, Verse 1 and dominate the discussion. They both need to be witty and charming. They both need to introduce not only themselves into the fray but also their ideas for America, a hard task on a timed clock.
For former Virginia Sen. Webb, the plan is simple: Play up your Marine background and make a well-timed joke about how you were once a Republican and then became a Democrat. Trust me, America will eat it up.
And for Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island: Since you barely made it here (according to ABC News, Chafee was barely a blip on the polls, posting some 1 percent), you should break out into a song—seriously, a full-out performance from All that Jazz, complete with top hat and cane.
Will it help Chafee win the nomination? Of course not, but it will go viral and be the talk of the town, and that is winning in my book.
Where Is Joe Biden?
He. Hasn’t. Declared. So stop goading him, CNN, with your news of a podium “waiting in the wings.” He hasn’t declared. But man, it would be nice to see him up there because Biden is made for this kind of discourse. He is cheeky and off the cuff. He is practiced and measured. He is the vice president, and he hasn’t declared, but if he wanted to pop up onstage à la Kanye West at American Idol, it would be cool because CNN has a podium ready for Biden who hasn’t declared. But if he did, it would be awesome because Biden is built for this spotlight. But he isn’t running for office, or at least he hasn’t decided to, so he won’t be there, and no matter what CNN does, he hasn’t declared. So, no Joe, not Tuesday night, anyway … unless he is riding by and decides to hop out and hop onstage, he won’t be there, but ….
Editor’s note: After you’re finished watching the political smackdown, please join #TheRootDebate on Twitter, hosted by political analyst Jason Johnson.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is associate editor of news at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.