“Lucky Number 7 Presidential Debate is Next!” – Sunday Political Brunch December 29, 2019

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It’s crunch time for the Democratic presidential candidates. While they have been doing one debate per month, that is about to accelerate. In the course of just 41 days, they will debate four times in January and February. Maybe that will serve to whittle down the field even further. By the time February ends, four states will have held primaries or caucuses. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Debate Lucky #7!” – The next debate takes place on January 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. It is the seventh debate and the final forum before the crucial Iowa Caucuses. The Democratic National Committee has tightened the qualifications for the debate and so far, only five candidates have qualified: former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Senator Cory Booker and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang are trying to make the field, but the stricter criteria to qualify may keep them out. I kind of like the idea of a debate of five, but since the first contest is so critical, I’d like to see maybe two more get in.

“The Best of the Rest” – The next three debates after Iowa are February 7, just four days before the New Hampshire Primary; February 19 just three days before the Nevada Caucuses; and, February 25, four days before the South Carolina Primary. In all cases, the debates will take place in the state of the next primary. That’s crucial for home-state voters to get the final look-see of the candidates left on stage. On balance I’ve enjoyed these debates and have been informed by them. Whether you agree with these candidates or not, the DNC deserves a lot of credit for putting them out there so often. No one can say they didn’t have the chance to make an educated vote.

“Who’s on First?” – The latest national composite poll from Real Clear Politics (RCP) has former VP Biden leading with 8.5 percent. Bernie Sanders is trending back up in second place, while Elizabeth Warren is trending down slighting in third. Pete Buttigieg is a solid fourth. But as I’ve said, a national poll really doesn’t matter, since we don’t have a national primary. What matters is how any candidate performs in the first four primary season contests, especially the first two.

“Hawkish on the Hawkeye State” – The nation’s first contest is the Iowa Caucuses on February 3. While Biden may lead nationally, the latest RCP composite poll has Mayor Pete leading with 22 percent, to Senator Sanders at 20 percent, Biden at 18.8 percent and Warren at 16 percent. Likely VP choice and neighboring Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is solid at 6.3 percent. Yes, Biden may lead nationally, but the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are all about momentum, even if you don’t win. The Iowa numbers for Biden, who once led big here, must be troubling.

“Don’t Take Us for Granite” – The Granite State of New Hampshire holds its primary on February 11. The RCP composite poll has neighboring Vermonter Sanders leading with 19 percent, to Buttigieg – who once led here - with 17.7 percent. Biden who also once led here is now third at 14.3 percent and Massachusetts neighbor Warren – who also once led here as well – is now fourth at 13.3 percent. The fact that she’s trending downward in both Iowa and New Hampshire must have her staff and supporters worried. Thus, perhaps, the motivation of her “wine cave” fundraiser attack on the surging Mayor Pete, which was quickly lampooned on Saturday Night Live! Warren did have one of the best lines in last week’s debate when moderator Tim Alberta of Politico asked, “Senator Warren you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. I would like you to weigh in as well.” And Warren responded, “I’d be the youngest woman ever inaugurated!” The crowd loved it!

“Will the Gloves Come Off?” – The most glaring issue in this race is that Sanders and Warren are joined at the hip. They are dear friends and ideological soul mates. Their issue stances are so close, you’d be hard pressed to slide a sheet of paper between the two. That is probably hampering them both and preventing a breakout. Warren was clearly the best debater through the first six contests, and Sanders was hobbled by health issues. Now, Sanders clearly is at full strength and has his fire and passion back, and the polls reflect a bounce. At what point do these two cut their losses, and attack each other? It’s got to happen, or both may be done. Politics is a full-contact sport. You can’t “nice and polite” your way to the White House in either party.

“When the Gloves Come Off, Part 2” – My point about Warren and Sanders needing to challenge each other is backed up by scrappy Mayor Pete and equally-scrappy Senator Klobuchar’s dust-up. Both have been gaining ground and political buzz, so they each needed a marquee moment in the debate to grow momentum. Klobuchar, who has been a county prosecutor and three-term U.S. Senator, chided the Sound Bend Mayor for his lack of political experience, plus the fact that he lost badly in a statewide race. Klobuchar said, “We should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and has been able to show that they can gather the support that you talk about. Like moderate Republicans and Independents, as well as a fired-up Democratic base.” To which Buttigieg retorted, “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote, as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.” It was the kind of good feisty exchange we need between Sanders and Warren!

What did you think of last week’s debate in Los Angeles and did it change your allegiance? Just click the comment button to let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is also a National Contributing Political Writer for, “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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