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What Will Happen at the First Democratic Debate

Updated on October 13, 2015

The Main Players

Hillary Clinton entered the 2016 Presidential Election campaign as the odds-on favorite to not only with the Democratic nomination, but also the general election. Since declaring her candidacy, she has struggled with her public perception as she has been dogged by accusations of improper use of her confidential and personal email accounts, as well as the continued Republican acrimony surrounding the terrorist attack at the US Embassy in Benghazi.

Her poll numbers have tanked both nationally and in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire as people are increasingly saying that they do not trust her. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has surged as the more liberal counterpart to the Clinton machine. He has taken his self-described socialist vision of a country no longer run by the billionaire class and instead by average working people across the nation. Democratic voters are responding favorably and Sanders has ridden this wave of support to a lead in New Hampshire and has closed the gap significantly in Iowa.


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The Other Guys

With all the media attention surrounding the 2 Democratic front-runners (not to mention the circus happening on the GOP side) Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee have been campaigning in almost total obscurity. Webb has been a US Senator representing Virginia since 2006, when dissatisfaction over the George W. Bush administration helped Democrats surge across the country. As a stereotypical “Blue Dog Democrat,” Webb has been a moderate in the Senate with strong interest in military and veterans affairs.

Chafee is a career politician from a political family, which probably doesn’t bode well this election cycle in which the theme appears to be the electorate’s dissatisfaction and anger over their political leaders. However, Chafee’s is an interesting story of ideological evolution, as his party affiliation has changed from Republican to Independent to Democrat within the past 10 years as he has seen the GOP’s ideals move too far to the right for his liking.

What To Watch For

Tonight is the first opportunity for Webb and Chafee to introduce themselves to a national audience, probably a little late for their liking. It’s an uphill battle for them to gain traction in this race, but given the way Clinton has been struggling to break away from the pack and concerns over Sanders’ electability in a general election, these two have an opportunity to frame themselves as viable alternatives.

The main concern about Sanders is his ability to sell a socialist philosophy to a skeptical nation, even if people seem to respond favorably to many of his ideas. Can he come across as a unifying populist rather than a radical? That will be something to watch.

Everyone knows Hillary Clinton, but not everybody likes what they see. Even Democrats are seemingly unenthused about her candidacy, and these scandals that follow her everywhere are not helping favorability ratings. She needs to dispel these accusations and go on the offensive against the conservatives who are attacking her. If she can successfully defend her actions and put her narrative forward then it will be mission accomplished.


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