Every inch of the first Democratic debate next week will be scrutinized from the candidate’s perspective and from the perspective of the audience. One of the most important details for any televised debate is where on the debate stage the candidates will be placed. Candidates placed toward the center of the stage are usually guaranteed more exposure and camera time compared to the candidates tacked on the side as a bookend.
NBC has now released the podium order for the first Democratic debate and as expected, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke will be front and center on the first night, June 26, while Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will get the same position on the second night, June 27.
The podium placement decisions were determined by polling, according to NBC, the Democratic National Committee’s host for the first Democratic debate.
Night 1 Podium Order (June 26)
From left to right: Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, John Delaney
The biggest winner in podium placement for the first night is, without a doubt, Beto O’Rourke. If Beto were to have been randomly placed on the second night of debate action, his podium spot would be bumped several places to the side and he’d be lost in the wandering valley somewhere between the outer edge and center stage.
Night 2 Podium Order (June 27)
From left to right: Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell
Obviously, the Biden/Bernie battle will be the main attraction on night two of the debate. Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris will be working their way in on any answer they can grab, while the others will spend their time attacking the front runners.
Some analysts basically see the second night as Biden’s to lose since not only will he get time to answer questions asked directly to him, but he’ll also get time to respond to any candidates choosing to attack him. This could easily double or triple the average screen time Biden would ordinarily receive, plus Biden is a master at extending his answers.
Candidates desire a podium next to Joe Biden
For the lower-tier candidates, polling near the bottom, the chance to stand next to Joe Biden on the second night, or even a podium or two away from him, would offer more media exposure in one night than they’ve likely received the entire campaign up to this point, as Politico reports:
Several advisers to candidates outside the top tier said they hope their candidates are onstage with former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — the top two polling contenders — either to guarantee they’ll get the most eyeballs or convey an immediate contrast. One adviser of a second-tier candidate relished the thought of their candidate being onstage with Biden: “I can offer you the younger alternative of what you’re looking at right now.”
One candidate, in particular, was hoping to be known as the “Asian man next to Biden”:
“I want to be next to Joe Biden so the country can Google, ‘Who’s the Asian man next to Joe Biden,’ and then they will discover Andrew Yang,” little-known entrepreneur Yang said.
Podium placement is something that seems trivial, but it’s something that campaigns agonize over which can actually make or break a candidate who’s running on fumes. Every name will get a bump simply for being on stage in general, but some will get more notice than others. The candidates who stand out with the best answers or most moving statements will be the ones who get Googled afterward, as Andrew Yang correctly notes.