Democrats to Square Off in Last Debate Before Iowa Caucus

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren poses for a photo after speaking at a campaign event Sunday in Marshalltown, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Six Democrats contending for the presidency will take the stage in Des Moines on Tuesday night in the final debate before Iowa voters go to their precinct caucuses in three weeks.

Those candidates – Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren – will use the opportunity to make a final pitch to voters in Iowa, as well as making their case to the rest of the nation as many Americans might just now be beginning to pay attention to the Democratic race.

The debate, co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, will be held in the historic Sheslow Auditorium in Drake University’s Old Main administration building on its Des Moines campus. The two-hour debate, which will be broadcast live by CNN and livestreamed online by both the cable news network and the Register, will begin at 8 p.m. Central time.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip and the Register’s chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel will moderate the debate, the seventh in a series sponsored by the national party.

Political observers will be watching to see if any of the six candidates exploit Tuesday’s debate to attack his or her opponents, as Warren did in the last nationally televised debate in Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

In that debate, Warren departed from her rule that she would “speak no evil” of fellow Democrats to criticize Buttigieg’s appearance at a Napa Valley fundraiser held in a wine cave.

“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren declared.

Undecided Iowa voters may be watching Tuesday’s debate to help make up their minds on which candidate to support.

Only 40% of Iowans surveyed by the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Friday said their mind is made up, while 45% said they could be persuaded to switch their support to a different candidate.

Sanders was the first choice of 20% of 701 Iowa Democrats polled who say they are likely to attend their Democratic precinct caucus on Feb. 3. Warren was next in line with 17%, Buttigieg at 16% and Biden 15%. The race is still very fluid, however: The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The remaining major Democratic candidates polled in the single digits, with Amy Klobuchar at 6%, Andrew Yang 5%, and Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer each at 2%. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 1%, has not campaigned in Iowa. Cory Booker, who dropped out of the race Monday, polled at 3%

Candidates had until Friday to quality for the debate under rules set by the Democratic National Committee, which included having at least 5% support in at least four national or early-state polls, or 7% support in at least two early-state polls, and at least 225,000 unique donors.

Left off the debate stage under those criteria were several candidates who have spent a lot of time in this state wooing Iowa voters, including Yang, Michael Bennet and John Delaney.

Booker had also failed to make the cut, as did Marianne Williamson, who dropped out Thursday.

Critics have pointed out that denying Yang, Booker and Deval Patrick a place at Tuesday’s debate leaves an all-white field on the stage, which is not reflective of the diversity of the Democratic Party. Booker and Yang met the national party’s fundraising threshold but not for poll results.

Earlier, Yang had urged the Democratic National Committee to commission more polls prior to the Iowa debate in a letter sent to DNC Chairman Tom Perez. Yang, who qualified for the first six debates but failed to reach the polling threshold for the seventh, was the only candidate of color on stage at the Los Angeles debate.

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