Two days. Five moderators. Twenty candidates. More than 200 minutes of questions, rebuttals and jabs. The first official debate of the Democratic presidential primary kicks off this week, with more than a dozen White House hopefuls taking the stage for the televised political tangle. Confused? You’re not alone. The large field and subsequent process for deciding who gets to debate whom (and when) have prompted plenty of questions. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know heading into the events.
So, when and where is this first primary debate happening?
The first debate, hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, will be held in Miami over two days on Wednesday, June 26, and Thursday, June 27.
But isn’t the 2020 presidential election more than a year away?
That’s correct. The first night falls a mere 496 days before the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. That’s because it’s the first of 12 debates the DNC plans to hold over the next 10 months. DNC Chairman Tom Perez has said he hopes the full schedule will “make our party more inclusive” and give voters a chance to get to know the many Democratic contenders.
It feels like there are a million people running. How will they fit them all on one stage?
There are, as it stands now, 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination. The DNC capped participation at 20 candidates and, lo and behold, that’s how many qualified for the first rhetorical tangle. The field is split over two days, with 10 candidates on stage each night.
How did organizers decide whom to include?
The DNC announced eligibility requirements for the summer’s first two debates back in February. To snag a spot, candidates needed to hit at least 1% support in three qualified polls or have 65,000 donors, including at least 200 different people in 20 states. That bar will rise as the campaign continues, winnowing the field further for future matchups.
Did Sen. Klobuchar make the cut?
She did. Klobuchar qualified and will take the stage on Wednesday, the first night of the debate. Her competition includes Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. For those interested in this sort of detail, Klobuchar snagged a spot near the center of the stage. She’ll be sandwiched between Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and O’Rourke, according to NBC. Front-runners Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are among the candidates facing off the second night.
What are the stakes for Klobuchar and the other candidates?
At its core, the debate is an opportunity for candidates to make an impression with a large national audience: Roughly 24 million people tuned in for the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 cycle. For Klobuchar, who has struggled to gain traction in national and early state polls, a strong performance or breakout moment could make a difference. At the same time, coming off unprepared or committing a gaffe can set a campaign back.
What kind of questions will the candidates get to answer?
You’ll have to wait and see. Questions, developed by the host organization, are typically kept under wraps until the cameras start rolling. Issues dominating headlines (including escalating tensions with Iran) and perennial political topics like the economy and health care are likely to come up in some form. The network also solicited questions from viewers (submit your own at tinyurl.com/y5fvb5hl). Anchors and hosts from various NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo programs — Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart — will moderate both nights. They’re allowed to ask follow-up questions during the debate itself.
How can I watch?
The debate will air live on NBC, Telemundo and MSNBC from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Central. Thanks to a requirement set by the DNC, all debates will also stream online, including at NBCNews.com.
What happens when it’s over?
Expect no shortage of reporting, analysis and armchair quarterbacking tweets about who did well, who bombed and what it does (or does not) mean for the race. And then, in a month, we’ll do it all again. Candidates meet next in Detroit on July 30 and 31 for a debate that will air on CNN, CNN International, and CNN en Español.
Should I make popcorn?