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Warren-Sanders Match, Battle for Spotlight Among Lesser-Knowns Predicted for Tonight’s Democratic Debate

A showdown between two of the top five Democratic White House candidates will likely be the headliner of tonight’s debate in Detroit organized by CNN.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are practically neck-and-neck in the polls and are expected to volley over relief of student debt, allowing former inmates the right to vote, Medicare for all and more. Tuesday night’s verbal match marks the first time both will share the same stage in the parade of debates.

But aside from their expected competition, Tuesday’s opening session of the two-night battle will also be another opportunity for those at the bottom of the polls to stand out, Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, told Fortune. 

The candidates will need to impress the audience because the Democratic National Committee is raising the standards for candidates to qualify for the fall debates, putting those in the 0% or 1% polling ranges in a near make-or-break position. 

“(John) Delaney could have a good night,” Malloy predicted about the former congressman from Maryland, a state that has found itself at the center of the news cycle.

Marylanders, Democrats, and people around the country have responded negatively to President Trump’s recent attack on U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, and condemned the president’s classification of Maryland’s largest city as “disgusting” and a “rat and rodent infested mess.” 

The issue and the president’s alleged racism is likely to come up in the debate, putting Delaney in the position of expert.

“I think there’s a big opportunity … because he (Delaney) can speak from the heart of where he comes from,” Malloy said.

Self-help guru Marianne Williamson also is likely to attempt to break away from the crowd, as is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is known for keeping struggling rural hospitals open in his home state and arranging several tuition freezes. 

“I think this could be a night where people come to know Steve Bullock, who’s a moderate,” Malloy said.

The same might be said for Williamson, Malloy said. Social media crackled with questions after Williamson touted love as one of the answers to the country's problems. Though many comments were made in the vein of comedy, one poll shows she struck a nerve.

A survey of 30,000 readers across Apester publisher sites—including Rolling Stone, Variety, and MacWorld—showed Williamson is developing a following. In response to a question of what would more entertaining in the White House race—President Trump’s tweets or a Marianne Williamson candidacy—more than 51% chose Williamson, survey organizers report.

Along with Sanders, Warren, Williamson, Bullock, and Delaney, Tuesday night’s slate— picked at random—also includes South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The session will run from 8 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m. E.T. and air on CNN, CNN.com livestream, CNN apps on mobile devices as well as for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV. CNN correspondents Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper will moderate.

Organizers have sharpened the rules since the last round of Democratic debates last month in Miami.

This time around, candidates will have 60 seconds to answer questions from moderators and 30 seconds for follow ups and rebuttals, according to CNN. The news organization will keep order among the large field of candidates with a system of colored lights warning them they need to wrap it up: Yellow means there are 15 seconds left, flashing red means 5 seconds, and solid red means stop. 

Also for these sessions, the 2020 candidates will be called on to express themselves at every turn. There will be no questions that call for only a show of hands or one-word answers, CNN says. 

If one candidate comes for another by name, the second candidate will have 30 seconds to respond. 

CNN is making sure the White House hopefuls maintain some civility, too. Anyone who repeatedly interrupts others will have his or her speaking time slashed. 

Recent polls will likely guide how aggressively the candidates spar. 

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Biden overall is polling at 34% among Democrats and Democratic leaners, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 15%, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California at 12%, and Sanders at 11%. The figures released Monday represent a bump up for Biden since the first round of debates last month in Miami, a slight bump for Warren, and dips for Harris and Sanders. 

Among others debating Tuesday, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is logging 6% and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas is polling at 2%. All others in the field are polling at 2% or less. 

Among interest groups, Biden’s scores highest, too. Black Democrats, an influential group in Detroit, are supporting Biden to the tune of 53 %, followed by 8% for Sanders, 7% for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and 4% for Warren. 

According to the Connecticut-based polling service, 51% of Democrats believe Biden has the best chance of unseating President Trump, followed by 10% who say the same for Sanders, and 8% each for Harris and Warren.

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