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What to Expect From the Second Democratic Debate

The first round of democratic debates saw 20 candidates take the stage in Miami, with issues like healthcare, immigration, and racial discrimination dominating the conversation. Longtime frontrunners made their mark (who could forget Kamala Harris going after Joe Biden over busing?), and candidates like former Housing and Urban Development Secretary  Julián Castro gained noticeability. 

Now the second round of democratic debates are less than three weeks away. Here’s what you need to know before tuning in.

The Logistics

The second round of debates will take place across two nights at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Ten candidates will take the stage from 8 to 10 p.m. E.T. (an hour earlier than June’s debates) on July 30 and July 31. The evening will be hosted by CNN and moderated by Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper.

While many of the rules will be the same as NBC’s debate, CNN announced that there will be “no show of hands or one-word, down-the-line questions.” (The moderators of the first debate attempted to use such questions to quickly show differences between candidates’ policies, but the tactic failed to provide explanations for complex policy and often felt rushed). CNN also noted that any candidate who “consistently interrupts” will have their time reduced.

The candidates will have 60 seconds to respond to direct questions and 30 seconds for rebuttals. Colored lights will be used to alert the candidates to their remaining response times: yellow equates to 15 seconds, flashing red to five seconds, and solid red to “times up.” Moderator questions will be listed at the bottom of the screen for viewers’ convenience.

Candidates will also be given time for both opening and closing statements, whereas in the first debate they were only permitted closing.

The Participants

The 2020 candidate field remains at 24: while Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the race following the first debate, billionaire Tom Steyer has since jumped in. Only 20 candidates may take the stage, however, meaning four won’t make the cut. 

The qualifying factors outlined by the Democratic National Committee for this debate are the same as the first: candidates must achieve 1% in three qualifying polls or amass 65,000 donors (with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states). Priority will be given to those who meet both the polling and donor thresholds; remaining slots will be filled based on who has the highest polling average among the qualified candidates. Additional tiebreakers are in place if needed.

Since the second debate has the same qualifying factors, the 19 remaining candidates from the first debate automatically qualify for Detroit. Governor Steve Bullock, who didn’t make the cut for Miami, has since reached the necessary polling threshold. This means there’s already at least 20 qualifying candidates. If any of the four others (Seth Moulton, Mike Gravel, Wayne Messam, and Tom Steyer) qualify, the DNC’s outlined prioritizing will come into play.

Fourteen candidates had already reached both qualifying thresholds by the first debate, according to ABC News’ FiveThirtyEight. These are the individuals most likely to be guaranteed a spot on Detroit’s stage: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. 

The official list of who made the cut will be announced on July 17, and CNN will host a live drawing to divide the candidates into two groups on July 18. This draw will decide which of the major candidates get the chance to face off against one another on the debate stage. 

The Issues

CNN said that it and the DNC would be “casting wide nets to gauge voters' concerns and interests in the weeks leading up to the debate,” although it gave no details on how they would be doing so.

Healthcare has been dominating much of the conversation thus far, but there’s been a push for a climate-focused debate as well. Climate change is possibly one of the most pressing global issues right now, yet just about 15 minutes of the first round of debates was spent on the subject. The DNC has said it would be unfair to host a debate focused solely on one issue, however, as it could favor candidates like Inslee, who has focused his entire platform around the issue.

After the first debate, some candidates stated they wished to see more questions on issues like climate and education, but ultimately what questions come up in Detroit are up to the moderators. While climate change is sure to be mentioned, debates usually cover a wide range of issues pertinent to voters.

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