WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN TONIGHT’S DEMOCRATIC DEBATE

Tonight features the second one-on-one style debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, beginning at 9pm ET in Milwaukee via PBS. Here are 5 topics that are guaranteed to come up.


1. Wall Street

Bernie Sanders loves talking about how much he hates the big banks. Beyond calling out Wall Street for its problematic role in both the 2008 economic crisis, as well as American campaign finance, Bernie Sanders has made quite an issue out of the subject of Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees. The charge, which first arose back in mid-January, has continued to plague Hillary Clinton ever since. When asked explicitly by Anderson Cooper why she accepted such a hefty fee, she simply replied that “It’s what they offered.”  Clinton’s response has been to try to shift focus away by demanding that Senator Sanders be more explicit in his insinuations and try to prove that taking money from Wall Street has ever influenced any of her decisions as a policymaker. Although it’s expected to be given less time in tonight’s debate, we can nevertheless expect at least some sort of mention of Hillary Clinton’s connection to Wall Street. Hopefully by now she has a better answer.

2. Foreign Policy

During last week’s debate, moderator Chuck Todd poked at a well-known weakness in Bernie Sanders’ bid for presidency. Very pointedly, Todd grilled Sanders on questions about his foreign-policy advisers and also asked him about nations that pose potential threats to the United States. Sanders’ answer did not inspire much confidence. However, as he has said repeatedly, he believes that judgement is a better qualifier for the role than is experience. Sanders has always conceded that Hillary Clinton is more experienced, but has then used this point to pivot to what he describes as a lapse in judgement with regard to her vote on the war in Iraq. Because foreign policy is a Clinton strength and an obvious Sanders weakness, it will likely feature prominently in tonight’s debate.

3. Gun Control 

For several weeks, Hillary Clinton has not managed to find successful strategy by which to attack Bernie Sanders. Previously, she has tried to draw contrast between Senator Sanders and President Obama with their stances on gun control. Clinton has tried to portray Sanders as more conservative when it comes to guns and has accused him of being a vote for the gun lobby. While these accusations did not stick as well if she would have liked, the popularity of her stance among Democrats is a slight advantage that Clinton is able to use when trying to persuade voters. In light of her recent devastating loss in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton is likely to try to go on the attack and may revert to old tactics in an effort slow Sanders’ momentum with undecided voters.

4. Electability

Although not quite exactly a topic that you might expect to hear during a debate, it is likely that we will hear some sort of question regarding Bernie Sanders is electability with regard to his promises of reforms and changes. This will be a moment that Hillary Clinton will use to point to her record of getting things done. More recently, tension has been mounting over a perceived split between President Obama and Senator Sanders. Clinton will likely attempt to pick up on this rift and use it to her advantage when drawing comparisons between herself and Obama, and this will likely play will with minority voters who hold favorable opinions of Barack Obama in upcoming primary states. Which brings us to…

5. Minority Voters

As we move toward contests within more diverse communities of color, candidates are now focusing more attention on swaying minority voters. In light of the recent article written by Ohio State Professor Michelle Alexander, it’s possible that one of tonight’s questions will address many of the criticisms lobbed Hillary Clinton for her role in the decline of black prosperity in the mid-to-late 90s. Alexander’s article, along with the recent admission from journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the endorsement of former NAACP president Ben Jealous are small things that challenge the previously held assumption concerning Hillary Clinton’s universal popularity among black voters.

By that same token there will likely be questions regarding criticisms of Bernie Sanders and his role in civil rights activism. Just recently, John Lewis criticized Sanders for his implied lack of presence in the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s, despite Sanders himself having been arrested as a student for protesting inequality.

Additionally, while Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Bernie Sanders has yet to receive many major endorsements.  Moderators are likely to ask why he is failing to connect with prominent figures of color, and should Sanders Presidency occur, how black voters will know that he is able to support them. If answered correctly, these segments of the debate could actually provide a win for Sanders and grant him a stage for expressing his record and his positions in the national spotlight.

Overall, tonight’s debate is on schedule to be a tense contest between two skilled orators. Check back later tonight for post-debate analysis and review.

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