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5 things to expect from tonight’s Democratic debate

Hillary Rodham ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, during a campaign stop at the Westfair Amphitheater in Council Bluffs, Iowa.Photograph by Nati Harnik — AP

We’ve already seen two action-packed debates from the Republicans, but on Tuesday evening, the Democrats get their moment in the spotlight as the five officially declared Democratic candidates for the presidency assemble in Las Vegas for the party’s first debate of the season.

The Democratic debate should be a bit less chaotic than the past two Republican contests. With only five candidates, not one of them named Donald Trump, things should be slightly easier to follow. Still, many hot-button issues will be discussed, and the debate could affect voters’ perceptions of candidates, particularly with the first primary race a little over two months away. Here, then, are five things to watch out for in Tuesday’s showdown.

1. Whither Joe?

At least one potentially important candidate won’t actually be on the stage tonight—Joe Biden. The sitting vice president hasn’t announced if he is seeking the nomination, but that hasn’t stopped a Draft Biden movement from putting out ads urging him to run. Even if he’s not there in the flesh, Biden’s presence will certainly be felt. Expect moderators to mention him early, likely in a question to Hillary Clinton.

2. Sanders and socialism

Much has been made about the politics of Bernie Sanders, who is currently running second to Clinton and is a self-professed democratic-socialist. This stands in sharp contrast to Clinton, who is tight with Wall Street and is perceived to be a more business-friendly candidate. Expect both moderators and Clinton to challenge Sanders to defend his positions on the economy.


3. E-mails, e-mails, e-mails

The Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal may be the gift that keeps on giving for the Republicans, but so far Democrats haven’t hit the former Secretary of State on it as hard as might have been expected. If someone is looking to make a big splash, attacking Clinton on this point may be just the way to do it.

4. The also-rans

Although most of the media attention has focused on Clinton, Sanders, and Biden, there are three other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination: Jim Webb of Virginia, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. None of these three has managed to make any sort of an impression on voters. If they’re going to get traction in the primary, they’ll need a big night on Tuesday.

5. Foreign policy, center stage

Just like it was with the Republicans, foreign policy will likely take up a big chunk of Tuesday’s debate. Reactions to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran nuclear deal, and the ongoing crisis in Syria will likely be front and center. Expect Clinton to stake out the hawkish side of the debate, Sanders to urge for change, and the others to try to find some way to hurt both of them.