LAS VEGAS – With the first CNN Democratic debate just hours away here at the Wynn Hotel in the heart of Las Vegas, here are some things to watch for:
Other candidates taking shots at Hillary
The easiest way for candidates Lincoln Chafee and especially Martin O’Malley to gain traction tonight is to go after the front-runner. Even though Democratic insiders have promised that this debate will be more polite in tone than its Republican counterparts, Clinton is a big target for the other five candidates on the stage. This will be similar to the 2008 debates, where challengers including Joe Biden and Bill Richardson helped Barack Obama to break out by tag-teaming Clinton. Her email scandal, ties to Wall Street, and flip-flops and the Keystone pipeline and the TPP trade deal are fair game.
Some Mention of Biden, But Not Too Much
Watch for a candidate or, more likely, a moderator to bring up the specter of Biden, who looms over the race and is dominating media attention right now. With a “Draft Biden” commercial already playing on CNN during pre-game debate coverage, it would be ridiculous if we don’t hear Joe’s name from the stage.
Applause Breaks for Bernie
The CNN audience is going to be relatively pro-Clinton, so don’t expect the crowd to be hostile to her. But Bernie’s supporters will be aggressive members of the crowd. When Sanders goes after Clinton or starts railing against Wall Street or about campaign finance reform, the Bernie-Heads will make sure television viewers hear them.
Jim Webb Breaking Out
This debate will introduce Jim Webb to the American public. The former senator will get a chance to air his hawkish foreign policy views. Though he’s handicapped by the fact that he’s running against Clinton from the Right in an increasingly left-wing party, and he’s almost certainly not going to win the nomination, he’ll be able to slam Clinton and others in his own party.
The Clinton Camp Will Spin Hard
No matter how well or poorly Hillary does, her campaign and associated Super PAC’s are looking at this debate as a pivotal moment in her campaign. They think if the media reports on her performance favorably, then the email scandal and other controversies will begin to fade. Expect Clinton campaign surrogates (including some who call themselves reporters) to start spinning as soon as she walks onstage. One talking point they’ll use: why did the five other men attack a woman so much in the debate?