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What To Expect From Tonight's Democratic Debate

Max Schwartz, Rachel Scott |
October 13, 2015 | 3:05 p.m. PDT

Civic Center Bureau Chief, Staff Reporter

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton are expected to be the heavy hitters in tonight's debate.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton are expected to be the heavy hitters in tonight's debate.
The Democratic debate may have a smaller number of candidates, but it is certainly larger in scope and importance for the top two candidates—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic contest is happening at The Wynn Hotel right on the famed Las Vegas strip, and 1,300 people are expected to fill the debate hall, according to CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist. (Only about 500 who were in the debate hall during the Republican event at the Reagan Presidential Library.) There are also 700 members of the press expected to attend. The debate will be moderated by Anderson Cooper, Dana Bash and Juan Carlos Lopez.

Any candidate who declared today and met the necessary polling criteria would be invited to the debate. Between the lines, that means Vice President Joe Biden. He has not declared as of yet, however, and Feist said he “would have to announce his intent to run before [the debate],” which Feist said is unlikely at this point.

READ MORE: House Republicans In A Leadership Crisis

This debate is expected to be more policy oriented—and it should be, given the field of candidates—than the last Republican debate in Sept. Candidates in that show (the performance of real-estate-developer-turned TV-personality Donald Trump earned it the title of "show" rather than debate)—spent time arguing about protecting rights President Obama has not taken away—the right to bear arms—and religious issues, among other topics. Candidates in the lead-in debate that day spent the first four questions arguing and complaining about Trump, especially  stuck on the fact they do not believe he is conservative, though he is running as one.

Tonight, Sanders will have an opportunity to provide specifics for his liberal policy proposals. This is a make-or-break moment for him. If he continues to outline a liberal wish list, it could hurt him, but it could be very helpful if explains how he is going to pay for his current policy proposals.

Clinton will be able to control the conversation—unless Sanders steals the spotlight. She will be able to go deeper into the specifics she has already laid out, and maybe she will explain her recent flip-flops, most notably on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton on SNL: What The Polls (And Republicans) Are Saying

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will finally be able to be recognized. He announced his candidacy around the time Freddy Gray was killed by police tactics. He is often credited for creating the over-aggressive policing policies - while he was mayor of that city - that led to Gray’s death. He will finally be able to explain what he wants to do and his policies, not to mention demonstrate that he is younger than Clinton and Sanders.

Former Sen. Jim Webb and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee will finally be able to be seen, but they will likely be drowned out by Clinton and Sanders. They are not serious candidates, which is demonstrated by Chafee because his big issue is converting the United States to the metric system.

Max Schwartz and Rachel Scott reported this story live from Las Vegas. 

Reach Civic Center Bureau Chief Max Schwartz here; follow him on Twitter here.

Reach Staff Reporter Rachel Scott here; follow her on Twitter here



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