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Top four US Democrat candidates head to first face-off in debate

Aug 29 2019 20:03
Emma Kinery, Bloomberg

Democrat candidates, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris will appear on a debate stage all together for the first time next month.

The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that the four top-polling candidates were among the 10 who made the cut for the event in September in Houston. They will be joined by Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro and Beto O'Rourke.

In previous debates, the top four contenders were divided between the two nights.

While the June and July debates featured 20 contenders split over two nights, the third will take place in just one night after half the field failed to meet a higher qualification bar of 130 000 individual donors and an average of 2% support in four approved polls.

The pared-down debate sets the stage for a winnowing of the Democratic field. It will be difficult for those on the sidelines to maintain momentum in their campaigns as donors and supporters transfer their allegiance to more viable candidates.

While some will try to qualify for the next forum in October, others are likely to see their failure to make the stage in Houston as a signal to withdraw from the race.

Seven candidates who participated in the June and July debates didn’t qualify: Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, Marianne Williamson, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard and John Delaney.

Kirsten Gillibrand dropped out Wednesday, the deadline for meeting the criteria, after realizing she would fail to make the cut.

Late-entrants Tom Steyer and Joe Sestak, who didn’t participate in the earlier forums, also failed to qualify. Four other candidates - John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton - already left the race.

The debate will be hosted by ABC News and Univision and will be moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Linsey Davis, and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

Candidates will have one minute and 15 seconds to answer questions and 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals. They can make opening statements but not closing statements.

Even with the smaller number of candidates, some are likely to complain that with 10 contenders on stage there will be little time for substantive discussions of issues. Biden had complained before the first debate that the format was too restrictive.

"It's a little bit of an exaggeration to call it a debate because there’s not really much time," the Democratic frontrunner said in June.

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