With the upcoming October Democratic debate set for the 15th, airing on CNN, the stage will welcome two candidates who didn’t make the cut in September. The change in stage makeup could lead to a more spirited and lively event based on what we know about each of the two newcomers.

Well, one of them is a newcomer, but Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard already has the first two Democratic debates under her belt. Rather than being a new face, she’ll be riding back into town ready to rumble once again before a national audience after having barely missed the cut in September.

CNN/New York Times Democratic Debate (Fourth Debate)

Date: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019
Time: 8 pm ET (5 pm PT)
Location: Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio
Sponsors: CNN, New York Times
Moderators: CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, along with New York Times National Editor Marc Lacey

Debate Calendar

Then, there’s Democratic fundraiser extraordinaire Tom Steyer. A “billionaire,” as he’s most commonly described, what does his addition to the lineup mean for the other candidates on stage?

First, with Gabbard, we know what she’s capable of. Back in July, she singlehandedly took down Sen. Kamala Harris, almost to the point of embarrassment.

Here’s a refresher if you need to re-watch the “busing” argument between Harris and Biden, with Gabbard batting cleanup at around the 3:48 mark:

Since Gabbard missed the September cut off, she was off the stage back on the 12th in Houston. However, she’s already qualified for October, so what can we expect? Politico is using terms like “fireworks” to describe Gabbard’s return:

Gabbard has begun signaling that she’s looking to create a breakout moment in the upcoming debate. Last time, she criticized Harris’ foreign policy credentials in the days before she laid into Harris on criminal justice onstage. This time around, Gabbard questioned whether Warren is “prepared to be commander-in-chief” on The Hill’s show “Rising.”

“I haven’t seen much come from her in the way of what kind of leadership and decision making that she would bring to that most important responsibility that the president has,” Gabbard said about Warren.

With Harris somewhat sufficiently neutralized, is Gabbard signaling her aim at Sen. Elizabeth Warren? Gabbard has often used her own military service as a top credential she touts when answering questions on whether she’s qualified to be President. Is Gabbard saying that Warren, having only served in the Senate, with no military background, with a fairly thin legislative resume, isn’t prepared to lead the White House? It’s all pure speculation, but it’s worth the discussion since, in July, Gabbard played a major spoiler for Harris which helped keep Biden from taking as much incoming fire.

Following the July debate, Harris made some comments regarding Gabbard as a “one-percenter,” referring to Gabbard’s poll numbers. No sooner did Harris make those remarks, than her poll numbers began to nosedive and she hasn’t recovered since. Gabbard is still sitting in the one-percent range, sometimes two percent depending on the poll, but she has definitely had an impact on the race.

Gabbard will surely be the one to watch in October since her campaign doesn’t have much to lose.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Steyer, a candidate we have not yet seen on the debate stage. Steyer missed the September deadline but managed to make it for October, just like Gabbard.

In Steyer, his few supporters do see some things they like, there just aren’t nearly enough Steyer supporters to make a dent. His personal wealth, in this day and age with the top Democratic contenders ripping “millionaires and billionaires” almost daily, is a liability for him. Steyer is well aware of that, and has been working to come up with ways to mitigate the issue, per The New Yorker:

Steyer’s aim in these interactions, he later explained to me, is to neutralize the negative connotations of his wealth. For all his fortune, he dresses modestly. His watch, he told me, costs a hundred and fifty dollars. He sticks to one tie, a handsome tartan number, and his colorful belt, fashioned by female artisans in Kenya, functions less as a statement piece than as a conversation starter, an opportunity to remind Americans that “the world is a better place when we educate women and girls.” He spurns private air travel and other wasteful habits; earlier this summer, dismounting the soapbox on a sweltering day in August, he refused a plastic water bottle from a supporter at the state fair. “I would assume that the first thing people know about me is that I’m a billionaire,” Steyer said. “The first thing I have to do is to explain that that’s not really who I am.”

The most ironic part of Steyer’s pitch is that he appears to be the mirrored image of President Trump as a billionaire. The first thing that Donald Trump does is explain that he’s a billionaire and that is, in fact, who he is. Steyer is trying to play the opposite of that by avoiding private jet travel, and trying to “fit in” with regular folks. The question will be whether he comes off as genuine in those instances, patronizing.

The lineup of 12 candidates on stage at once in October is mind-boggling, but this is the way things have shaken out. These are the candidates who made the October debate, in no particular order:

  1. Former Vice President Joe Biden
  2. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
  3. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  4. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
  5. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
  6. Sen. Kamala Harris of California
  7. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  8. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas
  9. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  10. Tom Steyer, billionaire Dem activist
  11. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  12. Andrew Yang, entrepreneur

The moderating team will have a difficult night depending on how much control they try to exercise regarding time limits and crosstalk. Unfortunately, for viewers, the “confrontation” questions usually win out to create more drama and “must-watch” viral clips after the debate.

With Gabbard in the mix and the addition of Steyer, the October debate will be a wildcard and the last truly large debate stage. Heading into the November debate, we could see no more than five or six candidates, so enjoy the big field while it lasts.