Warren in the spotlight as Democrats gather for 1st debate

MIAMI — After circling each other for months, Democratic presidential candidates will converge on the debate stage in Miami on Wednesday as the campaign enters a new — and likely more contentious — phase.

Given the massive field , the debate will be split over two nights with 10 candidates appearing each evening. It’s the highest-profile opportunity yet for many White House hopefuls to offer their vision for the country and — if for just two hours — chip into a political news cycle often dominated by President Donald Trump.

Elizabeth Warren will take center stage at the debate’s opening night. The Massachusetts senator’s constant stream of policy proposals has helped her campaign gain ground, and she’s the sole top-tier candidate who will appear at the Wednesday debate. Widely viewed as a talented debater, Warren is well positioned to showcase her strengths, strategists say.

“I don’t think anyone else on that night has her level of skill and her level of experience in this format,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “I think she should look at this as an opportunity to really shine and come out of the first night as the one that is dominating the conversation.”

Yet Warren could still face challenges. The other candidates on stage Wednesday aren’t as well known and could use the moment to take aggressive stances against Warren in an effort to find a breakout moment.

“She’s liable to have a target on her back and a lot of people potentially coming after her on that stage,” said Charles Chamberlain, the chairman of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America. “But on the other hand, that will let people see how she handles attacks and can fend them off.”

Beyond Warren, the candidates who will debate on Wednesday are Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio and former Reps. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and John Delaney of Maryland, along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and ex-Obama housing secretary Julián Castro.

One split that could emerge Wednesday centers on “Medicare for All,” the single-payer health plan introduced by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a fellow Democratic presidential candidate, and supported by Warren and others. But some candidates are not fully on board, preferring more incremental reforms. Delaney has been especially vocal in his criticism.

With so many White House hopefuls on stage, it could be difficult to dive too deep on any given issue. NBC News, which is hosting the debate, said candidates will have 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds for follow-ups. They will be allowed closing statements but no openers.

AP

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