Veteran Virginia Tech political observer Bob Denton points to this week’s 2020 Democratic Debate as an important first step for all of the candidates, especially the mid-to-lower tier contenders hoping to move up, and not be weeded out.  

Denton’s top five items to be on the lookout for on Wednesday and Thursday include:

What’s at stake, 16 months head of the 2020 election?  “The lesser known candidates will be trying to move up. They’ll want to win the soundbite war, distinguish themselves from the others, and generate some positive news coverage.”

What are some of the challenges facing the front-runner, Joe Biden? “Obviously, he needs to make certain he makes no gaffes. He needs to be sure he doesn’t overreact to some of the attacks he may get. He will be attacked in both debates, so he needs to be prepared to answer for past votes and past statements. But he can’t do so by overreacting and being too defensive.” 

Which candidate has the most to gain in these first debates?  “Elizabeth Warren has the greatest opportunity. She has some momentum and perhaps the greatest potential. She’ll be the clear front runner on stage, the first night (Wednesday), when perhaps there are more eyes on the debate. She has moved up in the polls and she’s going to have an incredible platform.”   

How much of the debate will focus on President Trump?  “I actually think most of the first debates will focus on policy and issues. Trump may be thrown in there. They may do some contrasting.  But that won’t get most of these candidates very far. Instead, they’ll need to talk about how they’ll deal with immigration, education, health care. Trump will be a subtext, but I’m not certain he’ll be the focus of every response.” 

Is this process (with 20 candidates) too big, too unmanageable to provide voters with a clear sense of the field?  “This is really not a debate, you can’t have a debate with that many people. It’s not even a forum. For us to think it’s a real debate is a false impression. The audience will want to make a judgment about leadership and competence and trust. Are the candidates empathetic, genuine, and authentic? Most of the impact will be how it’s presented in the media and on social platforms.  The soundbites, the news stories, the tweets. Who won, or who’s declared the winner.  Who’s declared the loser?”

About Denton

Bob Denton specializes in political communication with a focus on media and politics, political campaigns, and presidential discourse.  He provides regular on-air political commentary and analysis for television and radio across Virginia. 

To secure a live or recorded video interview with Bob Denton from the Virginia Tech campus, contact Bill Foy in the Media Relations office at 540-231-8719 or 540-998-0288.  

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