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The Big Things To Watch For At Tonight's Democratic Debate

Here are the questions Wednesday's presidential debate can answer.

Posted on July 31, 2019, at 6:30 a.m. ET

The debate is on — watch it live here.

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images

Wednesday is night two in Detroit, where 10 Democrats will take the stage and hope to achieve a positive, lasting moment in the hearts of the millions watching, without making some kind of grievous error.

This night features former vice president Joe Biden and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris in the center of the stage — three candidates who have criticized one another, in an isosceles triangle formation, over the last few weeks.

Joining them will be Sens. Michael Bennet and Kirsten Gillibrand, climate-focused Gov. Jay Inslee, anti-war-focused Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former HUD secretary Julián Castro, and Andrew Yang, of the “Yang Gang.”

Here are some of the biggest questions this debate will answer:

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What happens with Biden, Harris, and Booker?

In June’s debate, Harris criticized Biden over the way he spoke about segregationists and his approach to busing as a young senator (he was against it). Biden seemed ill prepared for the moment, and ultimately ceded the rest of his response, saying, “My time is up.” In recent weeks, Biden has said he was too “polite” at the first debate. He’s also accused Booker, who called Biden an architect of mass incarceration for his role in writing the 1994 crime bill, of lying.

Booker and Harris, two of the Senate’s three black senators, and two politicians who endorsed Barack Obama early on, will flank Biden onstage Wednesday. The CNN moderators in the Tuesday debate were eager to push candidates into all sorts of fights. If they carry that through on Wednesday night, you could imagine all kinds of policy and personality debates — Harris has been a little unclear about health care policy, for instance. Biden and Harris have gone back and forth about school integration policy. Booker and Biden have exchanged campaign comments about criminal justice policy. There are substantive issues among all three, particularly around how criminal justice policy should work in America and how far Democrats should go with government health care.

But there are also generational questions that, in subtle ways, Booker and Harris have raised about Biden and the era during which he first served as an elected official — a time when few women and nonwhite politicians held key roles in national politics.

Presumably, someone will criticize someone else.

Will someone bring up Biden’s age?

Most candidates haven’t talked about the former vice president’s 76 years. Multiple major news outlets this week, however, wrote stories about whether Biden’s age is a problem, filled with quotations from advisers who say he’s fit.

Jeff Kowalsky / AFP / Getty Images

Does a good debate performance matter in terms of turning people into committed voters?

To get a little horse race–centric for a second: The consensus after the first debates was that Castro and Booker had good nights, sounding like serious candidates of the next generation. That helped both of them raise money but didn’t quite carry through in the polling, suggesting that one good debate might not be enough to sway a voter out there into becoming a fan. Maybe two will do it?

Is this the last time you see several of these people?

The Democratic National Committee is raising the qualification standards for the next debate, in September. Currently, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Biden, and Harris are believed to have qualified. Castro, Booker, and Yang are on the cusp of qualifying, if they haven’t already. Will Gillibrand, Inslee, Gabbard, Bennet, or de Blasio make it? Does a big moment await?

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