Ten Democratic Candidates Set to Spar in Texas Debate

From left, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN on July 30, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

(CN) – Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls will face off Thursday in Houston for a single debate night featuring a narrowed-down field of the top polling candidates together on stage for the first time, with all eyes on frontrunners Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday’s debate, the third of the campaign season sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, is a departure from the previous two primary debates in Miami and Detroit, which were stretched over two nights and included all 20 candidates still in the running.

Biden previously shared the stage with Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, setting up memorable confrontations that boosted their momentum and left the former vice president on defense mode. Harris scored big in post-debate analysis and fundraising after criticizing Biden for his record on school bussing desegregation at the Democrats’ first debate in Miami.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day,” Harris said in June. “That little girl was me.”

Booker has clashed in the past with Biden over his record on criminal justice, health care and the Obama administration’s immigration policies.

But the debate on Thursday will offer Warren her own opportunity to meet head-on with Biden for the first time in front of a national audience, potentially exposing the party’s ideological split at a time when more voters are just beginning to tune into the presidential race.

Biden has remained the top pick for most Democrats since January, with 33% of likely voters backing him, followed by Sanders with 21% and Warren polling third at 16%, according to the latest Morning Consult survey. Sanders’ and Warren’s standing have regularly interchanged with each other, with Warren surpassing the more liberal Sanders in a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released this week.

The two liberal senators have passed up openings to criticize each other in previous debates, even aligning with each other at the July debate to call attention to their shared progressive vision while defending their standing as frontrunners without Biden on stage.

But Thursday’s winnowed debate offers new openings as the race pivots to a new phase eight months into the primary season.

The ten candidates participating in Thursday’s debate, hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision, will appear on stage in the following order, from left to right: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Booker, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Harris, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

The podium order was determined by polling averages based on the last 10 polls certified for qualification by the DNC.

Fellow Texans O’Rourke and Castro, who sparred with each other over immigration at the first debate, will have another chance to clash, this time standing side-by-side in front of a home state crowd. O’Rourke, whose strong showing in last year’s midterm election against Senator Ted Cruz propelled his presidential run, has consistently exceeded Castro in polls and fundraising.

Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and the last candidate to qualify for Thursday’s debate, has positioned himself as a leader on issues like housing, LGBTQ rights and immigration, telling O’Rourke at the July debate in Detroit to “do your homework” when it came to laws regarding border crossings. But he is still lesser known among Texas Democrats, having not run a statewide campaign in ruby red Texas, which President Donald Trump carried by 9 points in 2016.

Democrats have an electoral advantage in the Super Tuesday state ahead of 2020, according to a new Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. The poll found that 48% of Texans will definitely not vote to re-elect President Trump next year. It also puts Biden ahead of the field in the Texas Democratic primary with 28%, followed by Warren with 18% and Sanders and O’Rourke both coming in at 12%.

Similar findings were reported in a Univision/University of Houston survey of registered Texas voters released Tuesday, spelling trouble for Trump in the state that is becoming increasingly competitive for Republicans.

The poll found that 47% of registered voters in the state would support the Democratic candidate, with 42% saying they would support Trump. Hispanics, which represent the largest minority voting bloc with a projected 32 million Hispanics eligible to vote in 2020, would support the Democrat 73% nationally, the poll found.

“It has never been more clear: Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country,” said Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia. “We’re having a debate here in Houston because Texas is the focal point of the Democratic offensive strategy.”

The debate format will be 1 minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals, according to ABC News. Candidates will have the opportunity to deliver opening statements, but there will be no closing statements.

The DNC on Wednesday emailed a stern warning to 2020 candidates, imploring them against using “foul language” on the debate stage, according to CNN and Axios. O’Rourke in particular has not been shy about dropping the F-bomb on the campaign trail, most recently to describe his feelings on gun violence in the wake of two deadly mass shootings in his hometown of El Paso and in Odessa, Texas.

Moderating the debate will be ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, ABC News “World News Tonight” Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir, ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis and Univision Anchor Jorge Ramos. It will be held at Texas Southern University and will air from 8 to 11 p.m. ET across ABC and Univision platforms.

The fourth Democratic primary debate will be held Oct. 15 in Ohio, with a second night of debates scheduled for Oct. 16 if there are more than 10 qualifying candidates.

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