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Debate viewing guide: Stakes are high for next Democratic debate

Posted at 11:36 PM, Nov 18, 2019

Wednesday marks the fifth Democratic debate of the 2020 election cycle, and the stakes are starting to rise as the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary nears.

Ten candidates have qualified for this debate, down from last month's debate of 12 candidates. Here is a guide to this week's debate.

When: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 9-11 p.m.
How to watch: MSNBC or

The candidates
Former Vice President Joe Biden
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
California Sen. Kamala Harris
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Entrepreneur Tom Steyer
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Missing from the stage from last month's debate will be former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. O'Rourke has dropped out of the race since the last debate. Castro failed to qualify based on his polling numbers in state and national polls.

Among the candidates who did not qualify for this month’s debate are Gov. Steve Bullock, author Marianne Williamson, Sen. Michael Bennet, former Gov. Deval Patrick and Rep. John Delaney. Patrick entered the race in recent weeks, not allowing much time for him to obtain the qualifications for this month's debate. Ryan has also since dropped out of the race.

The fundraising threshold for November’s debate increased to 165,000 unique donors, and candidates needed to hit 3 percent nationally and/or 5 percent in early states in four different recognized polls.

The moderators

The moderators are Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC; Andrea Mitchell, host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on MSNBC and NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News' White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post.

This is Maddow's second time moderating a Democratic debate in this election cycle. She also was a moderator for the first Democratic debate, which was held in June. Overall, this will be Maddow's third presidential debate, as she moderated a Democratic debate in 2016. Andrea Mitchell also moderated a Democratic debate in 2016.


The race to earn the nomination has become tighter in recent weeks among the four top candidates. Specifically, Buttigieg has seen a surge in two key early voting states. A CNN poll released in recent days show Buttigieg has taken a lead in Iowa. Buttigieg is polling at 25 percent, with Warren coming in second with 16 percent. Biden and Sanders are polling at 15 percent. A poll also released in recent days by CBS showed Buttigieg in a near tie with 21 percent, with Biden and Sanders leading with 22 percent. Warren polled at 18 percent.

Two polls in New Hampshire are even more muddy. One poll, released by CBS, shows Warren leading with 31 percent, which is 9 points ahead of Biden. A separate poll conducted by Quinnipiac shows Warren at just 16 percent, with Biden leading with 20 percent.

While Buttigieg is gaining ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, the outlook for his campaign is still murky. In South Carolina, where African Americans make up 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters according to Quinnipiac, polling showed Buttigieg with 0 percent of the African American vote.

African Americans are a group of voters Buttigieg will need to win over to have any chance of becoming president. In 2016, African Americans made up 12 percent of the electorate, but voted by an 88-8 margin in favor of Hillary Clinton.


While the exact format is unknown, this month’s debate is shorter by one hour compared to the previous three debates.

Impeachment talk

At the October debate held in Ohio, all 12 Democrats expressed support for an impeachment inquiry. Among those on stage on Wednesday, there are six current members of Congress. Among them are five U.S. senators who could be asked to consider convicting Trump and removing the president from office.

Complicating matters, the five senators could be asked to sit for the Senate’s impeachment trial as the first states cast ballots in the Democratic primary. While the topic is bound to come up again, this has been an issue the candidates have shown some agreement on.

The Warren Plan

At the last presidential debate, Warren came under fire from her opponents for not having a plan on how to pay for her plan to provide Medicare for all.

"That didn't get a yes or no answer,” Buttigieg said at the last debate. “This is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular.”

Warren has since said that she is working on announcing a plan on paying for healthcare. Could this be something she rolls out on Wednesday?

Overall, Americans spend $3.5 trillion in healthcare per year, the Congressional Budget Office says. But the CBO could not put an estimate on exactly how much the average person would spend with a Medicare-for-All system. A CBO report says a number of factors, such as whether state governments will pay into the system and whether citizens can opt out of public insurance all options, would affect costs.

The CBO states that the federal government has lower administrative costs than private insurance. The cost to administer all of Medicare was 6 percent, compared to 12 percent for private insurers in 2017, the CBO says.

The CBO added that administrative costs could decrease even further as a Medicare-for-All system would have fewer eligibility exclusions.

What was left out of the last debate

Issues such as climate change, affordable housing and immigration were left off the table during the three-hour-long debate.

Following the debate, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro tweeted his frustration that these topics were not addressed. The final question of the October debate probed the candidates on if they have an unusual friendship like Ellen DeGeneres’ friendship with George W. Bush.

“Three hours and no questions tonight about climate, housing, or immigration. Climate change is an existential threat. America has a housing crisis. Children are still in cages at our border. But you know, Ellen," Castro said.

According to a CBS/YouGov September poll , 79 percent said that immigration was at least somewhat important. The poll also found that 70 percent considered climate change at least a somewhat important issue.

War on terror

Since the last debate, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by U.S. forces. This comes months after Trump declared victory over ISIS. But Trump has caught heat for withdrawing troops from Syria, and for his recent meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

There have been some differences among the candidates on how to proceed with the War on Terror. Most, but not all, candidates are in favor of pulling troops out of Afghanistan, for instance.