Five takeaways from first Democratic debate lineup

The lineup for the first Democratic presidential debate is set.

After much speculation, NBC announced on Friday that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE will share the stage with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) on June 27.

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Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) will find herself separated from the other top-tier candidates when she takes the stage on June 26.

Here are five takeaways from the debate lineup:

1. Warren stands apart

Warren’s frequent policy rollouts and dogged campaigning has helped propel her to top-tier status in recent weeks, with several surveys showing her either statistically tied with or even overtaking Sanders in key early primary and caucus states.

But when she heads to Miami later this month for the first Democratic presidential debate, she’ll find herself as the only top-tier candidate on stage. The Massachusetts Democrat is slated to debate on June 26, while her chief rivals, Biden and Sanders, won’t appear until June 27.

That arrangement denies Warren a rare opportunity to directly challenge her fellow top-tier contenders, and consequently a chance to further boost her standing in the primary field.

But Warren’s separation from the rest of the top-tier contenders may not be a bad thing for her. That’s because she won’t have to compete with other top-tier candidates for valuable attention, while also having an opportunity to dominate the stage on June 26.

2. Biden and Sanders will have a chance to go at it

Few candidates are as different as Biden and Sanders. One has cast his campaign as a blunt effort to defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and restore the political norms that preceded his administration, while the other has called for democratic socialism and political revolution.

On June 27, they’ll go head-to-head for the first time.

For Sanders, the debate presents an opportunity to broaden his base of support and potentially cut into Biden’s wide lead in the polls. Biden, on the other hand, will have a chance to challenge Sanders’s progressivism and make his case for a more centrist-minded approach to governing.

Sanders hasn’t directly attacked Biden yet. But he has delivered a few veiled swipes at the former vice president. During a speech at the California Democratic Party convention earlier this month, Sanders criticized the idea of a “middle ground” approach to politics, an unmistakable dig at Biden’s reputation as a moderate.

Biden took an implied shot at Sanders this week, saying at a fundraising event in Chicago that while the country is in need of change, “socialism” is not the answer.

3. The second night is stacked

With four of the primary contest’s top five contenders taking the stage on June 27, it’s clear that the second night of the debate carries extra weight.

Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris will share the stage that night, while a fifth top-tier candidate, Warren, will find herself separated from the pack on June 26.

That lineup raises the question of whether the second night may garner more attention than the first. But it also puts pressure on the leading candidates to stand out.

Unlike Warren, who has the opportunity to command the stage the first night, the four other top-tier candidates will have to jockey for attention. Still, that leaves each of them with a valuable opportunity to show off their debate chops.

4. Lower tier candidates have a couple paths

For candidates who have so far struggled to break out, the debate may be the opportunity they need to turn their fortunes around.

Best-selling author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson touts endorsements for progressive congressional candidates The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Warren becomes latest 2020 rival to back Biden The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden looks to stretch lead in Tuesday contests MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangGeorge Floyd protests show corporations must support racial and economic equality Andrew Yang discusses his universal basic income pilot program Andrew Yang on the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis MORE, the clearest political outsiders in the race, will both share the stage with Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris on June 27, as will other long shot candidates like former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE (D-Md.), who announced his presidential bid nearly two years ago.

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A standout performance in the presence of four top-tier candidates could give the lower-tier hopefuls a much-needed boost. But those second-night slots also carry the risk of lesser-known contenders being drowned out by more established candidates.

With Warren being the only breakout candidate on stage on June 26, her opponents may have a better chance to shine. Beyond Warren, however, that stage will still include high-profile Democrats like Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), both of whom have proven adept at commanding crowds.

5. NBC, DNC will face a highwire act

Five hosts will moderate the debates, and they’re sure to face close scrutiny over everything from the questions they ask to their handling of candidate responses.

And with so many candidates on the stage at once, the moderators will be under intense pressure to stick to rigid time limits while ensuring that each contender gets a fair shake.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE acknowledged the time constraints on Friday, conceding in an interview with MSNBC that the first debate may not offer candidates the chance to do the kind of “deep dives” on policy issues that they may be hoping for.

At the same time, the DNC itself will also find itself on the hook for any successes or failures in the first debate. After facing criticism for its handling of primary debates in 2016, the committee sought to open up the process, setting easy-to-meet requirements for candidates to appear on the debate stage.

Some candidates, however, have already raised concern about the debate.

Biden said this week that the crowded stages mean that candidates won’t be able to address questions with “any real depth.”

And Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE, who was among the four candidates who failed to make the debate stage, has complained that the DNC’s decision to omit one of his polls from its qualifying criteria unfairly shut him out of the event.

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