The podium order for the second Democratic debate coming up on July 30 and 31 will be a little more balanced than the first go-round back in June. I’ve been corrected by readers who say the proper term is “lectern,” not podium, but I’m sticking with the same term used by the debate host. The highest polling candidates naturally are stuck together at center stage, and then the rest are tacked on the sides based on their polling and fundraising numbers.
Here’s a look at where the candidates will be standing on stage next week and what that will mean for the battles as they play out between the various personalities.
Both nights follow the same time formats and will air on the same channels and live streams:
Night 1: Tuesday, July 30
Night 2: Wednesday, July 31
Time: 8 pm ET (5 pm PT)
Aired On: CNN, CNN.com, and CNN International
Location: Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan
Moderators: Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper
Night 1 – Tuesday, July 30
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren will get the chance to duke it out over differences, or similarities, in their progressive policies. They’ll also have former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to kick around as well. However, it’s notable that Buttigieg has lost a lot of momentum he had just a few months back and O’Rourke’s poll numbers are abysmal though he easily qualified for this debate.
The first night will play out with Sanders and Warren, candidates who tout their progressive policies for every issue, being pushed back on moderates in the field like Gov. John Hickenlooper who has urged his 2020 Democratic rivals to avoid being labeled as “socialist” and stay away from the term. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also comes down more moderate on many issues, such as her disagreement with some in the field over offering free college tuition.
Night 1 will certainly be the Bernie and Elizabeth show as each candidate is fighting for the same swath of “not-Biden” voters and they each need to consolidate a coalition if they want to have a chance at matching the current front runner in terms of support. So far, Warren has been doing a better job while Bernie’s numbers are getting soft.
Night 2 – Wednesday, July 31
The second night features the matchup that CNN has been hyping and that some voters are eager to see again with Sen. Kamala Harris firmly planted center stage next to former vice president Joe Biden. Sen. Cory Booker is also stuck on the other side of Biden which means he’ll be wedged in between the candidates he’s been taking the most attacks from.
You can almost bet the house that CNN will lead the questioning on night two with an attempt to pick up where the Biden/Harris feud left off back in June. It will be noteworthy to see how both candidates handle themselves. Will Harris dial it back a little bit to avoid seeming overly aggressive? Will Biden, with better preparation, find some line of attack against Harris over her record as a prosecutor in California to blunt criticism of his own record?
Booker will also be clamoring to get in on the action since his campaign has stalled in single-digits and he hasn’t built any traction. Look for him to try and grab more screen time.
Perhaps more notable in this lineup is that entrepreneur and businessman Andrew Yang will be standing right next to Harris, very close to center stage. He didn’t get much speaking time during the first debate as it seems he’s geared much more toward policy discussions that messy political spats. Perhaps this will be his chance to shine as the non-politician on stage.
Will CNN rules change the dynamics?
As we previously noted, CNN will be instituting several new rules to govern the discourse of both nights. Changes including allowing an opening and a closing statement from each candidate, firm time limits, and a ban on “show of hands” questions.
Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin thinks the rules are a good step, but also have some drawbacks:
I’m far less excited about the inclusion of both opening and closing statements, largely because they give fringe candidates time and diminish time for actual questions. And, instead of dinging candidates who interrupt by taking away time, I’d like to see everyone’s microphone turned off until the speaker is finished. It’s simple courtesy and, in any event, the crosstalk makes it impossible to hear what any of them is saying.
Rubin has a point about the opening and closing statements. These types of soundbite chunks from the candidates are filled with generic campaign rhetoric and don’t usually offer much to the viewers by way of getting down to the heart of the issue.
Rubin also points out that CNN’s decision to take time away from candidates who interrupt while others are speaking seems like it’s not going to be easy to enforce. It would be better, as Rubin suggests, to simply disable microphones while a candidate is answering a question. This would remove the incentive to try and interrupt. However, would CNN really keep the mics off if Biden was answering a question and Harris or Booker jumped in to attack him? I’m betting they weighed the option of turning mics off but decided it would be better television if they left them on and let candidates interrupt but threatened to limit their time instead. After all, CNN wants entertainment and ratings, not a snooze-fest.
We’ll have full debate coverage next week and get you all the information needed for live stream links and more analysis. Check the debate schedule page for the latest information.