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What Is Anyone Hoping to Get Out of Tonight’s Democratic Debate?

The stage is empty before the fourth Democratic primary debate.

Tonight is yet another Democratic debate, but don’t worry, we’re down to only having 12 candidates on the stage. “But wait,” you might be saying. “Isn’t that more candidates than were on the stage last time?” And you would be right! Rather than subject us to another double-night ordeal, this debate will bend the DNC’s previously established 10-candidate cap. I can’t imagine many people are complaining. 12 people on a stage vs. two nights of six is lose-lose for everyone involved, including us.

So what do we have to look forward to? Well, they’ll likely be talking about a lot of the same things they’ve talked about at the last debates: healthcare, gun control, immigration, etc. These are incredibly important subjects, but watching 12 people talking about their often minute differences in proposed policy, delivered in obviously pre-written soundbites, is not the most exciting way to spend three (yes, three) hours.

Will they branch out? Will they finally talk about abortion is a substantial way? They have to talk about impeachment, potentially giving Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar an advantage, since they’re all on the Senate Judiciary Committee, making them the candidates here who can frame themselves as being able to (eventually, hopefully) act on the matter, not just talk.

Another big question: Who will have a target on their backs tonight? There’s always a big dog that the others want to take down. In the past, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have filled that role. Elizabeth Warren is also surging ahead in the polls, making her a definite target. There are some new complications, though. Since Biden’s family is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, attacking him might feel to some like risking their solidarity with Democrats (and, you know, anyone who wants the corrupt puppet monster out of the White House). Also, Sanders’ recent scary health problems mean that anyone who attacks him politically risks looking like a bully.

It’s not just the top-polling candidates who risk a pile-on, though. In terms of vulnerable candidates, we’re down to pretty much just one “Really? Him?” interchangeable white guy: Tom Steyer. Since he’s also a proud billionaire, it’s likely that he and Warren and/or Sanders will have words for each other. The others—O’Rourke, Gabbard, Buttigieg, Yang, Castro—are likely to just be looking to stand out enough to make it to the next debate, which will have much stricter qualification requirements.

As for the DNC, they’re out here trying so hard to get us to care about this cool, fun, super hip happening. If you text “BINGOCARD” to 43367, they’ll even send you a—you guessed it—bingo card to play along. It features cool, youth-oriented items like “Tell someone your personal story” and “Follow @TomPerez on Instagram.”

Because there’s nothing people love more than following the Chair of the Democratic National Committee on social media—except maybe bingo cards that are all about actionable activities and have nothing to do with chance. You know, the way bingo works.

Democratic Debate bingo card

(image: Democratic National Committee)

Watch out, fellow Democrats! We’re in for a fun night!

Oh no, wait, that last one actually sounds great. Let’s play that game!

Tonight’s debate starts at 8pm Eastern and is hosted by the New York Times and CNN, which will also be streaming the event online.

(image: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.