Tonight’s Democratic Debate: 4 Things To Watch For


Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton meet Thursday night on a debate stage in Milwaukee. It will be their first face-to-face matchup since Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary where Sanders beat Clinton by more than 20 points.

Sanders raised more than $5 million in just 18 hours after polls closed (average contribution, according to his campaign: $34), giving his campaign a rocket boost of money to match the energy of his supporters. Clinton is hoping to slow his momentum and her campaign is working to shore up support among black and Latino voters in Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. So, let’s just say the stakes are high in tonight’s debate, especially for Clinton. Here are four things to watch for tonight:

1. Will they attack each other?

Clinton and her supporters maintain Sanders has gotten a pass from reporters and Republicans (who have attacked her relentlessly while gleefully playing up Sanders’ triumphs). Clinton’s campaign is already starting to draw sharper contrasts with the Vermont senator. But she’s under pressure to find a way to slow Sanders down and the first chance she’ll get is tonight’s debate.

In past debates, Sanders has avoided attacking Clinton directly on her “damned” emails and her high-dollar speaking fees, while effectively tying her to Wall Street and corporate interests. This line of attack (or whatever you want to call it) has hurt Clinton.

In exit polls on Tuesday, 91 percent of Democrats said having a candidate who is “honest and trustworthy” was a top priority voted for Sanders. Many voters NPR interviewed said money in politics and Wall Street ties are what tipped them away from Clinton and toward Sanders. Will he keep it up or add new, more direct lines of attack?

2. Will they modify their messaging to appeal to African-American, Latino and young voters?

The first two states to vote were overwhelmingly white. That dynamic shifts significantly in Nevada, South Carolina and for Super Tuesday — all states where there are more African-American and Latino voters. Watch for the candidates to shift the suite of issues they emphasize to speak more directly to those voters. Expect to hear more about the Flint water crisis, criminal justice reform, voting rights and immigration reform.

Meanwhile, Clinton recognized in her concession speech Tuesday night that she needs to improve how she communicates with young voters, who overwhelmingly support Sanders. This will be the first chance for viewers to see how she is retooling her message following the vote in New Hampshire.

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