Ten Democratic Hopefuls Set to Square Off in Georgia

Twelve Democratic candidates sparred during the fourth 2020 presidential debate on Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (Photo by CNN and The New York Times)

ATLANTA (CN) —Ten Democratic presidential candidates are set to clash in the fifth primary debate Wednesday night in Atlanta, putting the focus of the race on a state seen as a potentially crucial battleground in 2020.

Wednesday’s two-hour debate will take place at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, the movie and TV production complex founded by filmmaker Tyler Perry.

The participating candidates are: Former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Senator Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, California Senator Kamala Harris; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; billionaire activist Tom Steyer; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Two major changes distinguish Wednesday’s debate from the fourth debate last month in Ohio. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who ended his presidential campaign on Nov. 1, and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will both be absent from the debate stage.

Castro failed to meet the polling requirements laid out by the Democratic National Committee for the first time.

Candidates were required to secure 165,000 unique donors and at least 3% support in four polls from a DNC-approved list, or 5% support in two polls from any of the early voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, former Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak and self-help author Marianne Williamson won’t appear on the debate stage after failing to reach the donor threshold or secure any qualifying polls. All five of them missed the last debate as well.

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a newcomer who announced his candidacy on Nov. 14, will also not participate in the debate. Faced with a field of challengers who have been campaigning and fundraising for months, Patrick must quickly gain support to make it onstage at the sixth debate on Dec. 19 in Los Angeles.

Wednesday’s debate in Atlanta will be moderated by an all-female panel — the second time a major political debate has been moderated exclusively by women.

The moderators are: Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show;” NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell; NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for the Washington Post.

The debate will be the first since public hearings for the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump began on Nov. 12. As the hearings continue throughout the week, it is likely that the impeachment inquiry will become a main topic of debate discussion.

The candidates are also likely to be asked about their health care proposals – particularly Warren, who earlier this month released her $20.5 trillion plan to pay for Medicare for All by imposing tax increases on billionaires and businesses.

Expect the candidates to also be pressed on race and social justice issues, especially given the Atlanta venue. Many of the qualifying candidates have already announced plans to spend time before and after the debate hosting events focusing on black voters.

Buttigieg, who has recently surged in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, has planned a series of black voter outreach events around Wednesday’s debate, including an event at Morehouse College, a historically black men’s college.

Klobuchar hosted a roundtable discussion Monday on voting rights and election security at the Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta’s historically black West End neighborhood.

The day after the debate, Warren will deliver a speech at Clark Atlanta University, Harris will hold a “black woman power breakfast” with Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, and Sanders will speak at Morehouse College about his plan to fully fund historically black colleges and universities and cancel student debt.

Republicans have maintained a tight hold on Georgia for decades, winning the state in every presidential election since 1996 and every statewide vote since 2008. But after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ narrow 55,000-vote loss to Republican Brian Kemp last year and Democrat Lucy McBath’s surprising victory over Republican Karen Handel in the state’s 6th Congressional District, Republicans have good reason to be nervous.

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll also shows Trump trailing the top five Democratic presidential candidates. Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg all beat the president in a hypothetical matchup.

In addition, three-term Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s decision to retire at the end of the year for health reasons comes just as Senator David Perdue, a first-term Republican, is up for reelection, guaranteeing two 2020 Senate races in Georgia and giving Democrats an opportunity to retake the chamber from the Republican majority.

“National Democrats know that the road to victory in 2020 runs through Georgia, and we are thrilled to welcome them to our state,” said state Senator Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Wednesday’s debate will air from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern time on MSNBC and will be streaming on MSNBC.com and washingtonpost.com.

The sixth Democratic primary debate will be held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19 and is co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico.

Six candidates have already qualified for the Los Angeles debate: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren.

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