The first Democratic debate is right around the corner on October 13 and the campaigns are feverishly preparing for their national debuts. For Hillary Clinton, it’s a chance to stop the hemorrhaging of her poll numbers and reestablish the imperviousness of her campaign. For the challengers, such as Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, it’s a chance to breakout into the mainstream as a viable alternative to Hillary.
First, a report on Bernie Sanders from Politico:
Bernie Sanders started studying for next Tuesday’s event not even a full week ago. And that’s because his two top aides sat him down in Burlington on Friday and asked if he had a plan.
Sanders has briefing books, a couple of meetings with policy experts, and an abiding aversion to the idea of acting out a debate before it happens. He knows the stakes are high, his staff says. But the candidate, whose New Hampshire polling and fundraising prowess have put a scare into Clinton, is uninterested in going through the motions of typical debate practice.
The Vemonter’s debate preparations, in other words, don’t look a ton like debate preparations.
While CNN is billing the event as a showdown, Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.
He won’t attack Clinton personally, but instead identify where their positions differ — on foreign policy for example — and try to leave the impression with viewers of the substantive differences between the party’s two front-runners.
Sanders has the easier job since he’s not trying to tear down Hillary Clinton as much as he’s just trying to get his name out there and get people to learn about his views.
In response, Hillary has been doing debate prep figuring out the best way to respond to Sanders and how to handle him without coming off as condescending. Report on the Clinton debate prep from the New York Times:
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign is grappling with a difficult question: How can she contrast herself with Bernie Sanders in next week’s Democratic presidential debate and beyond, without employing the sort of attacks that could boomerang to harm her?
For months, Mrs. Clinton has gingerly approached Mr. Sanders, the Vermont senator, who has routinely drawn tens of thousands of Democrats to his rallies and who is rivaling her in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire voters. She has seldom mentioned his name, let alone criticized him.
But while Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. may be a looming threat, Mr. Sanders poses more immediate concerns to Mrs. Clinton and her aides.
Many Democrats believe that Mr. Sanders, an independent who calls himself a democratic socialist, will prove too far left-leaning to capture the nomination, despite his popularity at this stage. But the growing chance that he could win either Iowa or New Hampshire, or both, has raised the stakes for the debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Over the next week, Mrs. Clinton and her aides will look for the best way to explain to viewers why she is a better choice than her nearest rival without sounding condescending to Mr. Sanders, or dismissive of his views, so she does not risk alienating his growing army of supporters.
“I’ve seen every attack people have thrown at him, and none of them have worked,” cautioned Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who supports Mrs. Clinton.
In other words, treating Sanders like he’s the “crazy old socialist from Vermont” will not serve to bring his supporters back into the Clinton fold. Instead, she must convey a message that Sanders is too progressive for the Democratic nomination and do so with a finely threaded needle. It’s not a trivial task.
The debate takes place on Tuesday, October 13, at 9pm ET (6pm PT). It airs on CNN and will be moderated by Anderson Cooper.