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Tonight’s Democratic debate: How to watch, start time—and 4 key issues to watch for during it

February 7, 2020, 5:34 PM UTC

This article is about the Feb. 7 Democratic debate. For information on the Feb. 19 debate, click here.

Following a brutal week for the Democrats in Iowa and in Washington, D.C., the party’s seven top presidential candidates will battle it out in New Hampshire during the eighth debate Friday night.

The debate begins at 8 p.m. E.T. and will be held at  St. Anselm College’s Thomas F. Sullivan Arena in Manchester, N.H. The contest will be co-hosted by ABC News, the network’s New Hampshire affiliate WMUR-TV, and Apple News. It will be moderated by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, World News Tonight anchor and managing editor David Muir, and ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis.

Also joining the moderators to question the debaters will be WMUR-TV political director Adam Sexton and WMUR-TV News Anchor Monica Hernandez.

This eighth debate for the rattled Democrats comes four days before the New Hampshire primary. The war of words also comes on the heels of the Iowa Caucus chaos, the acquittal of President Donald Trump, and the ever-growing uncertainty about which candidate can persuade voters they are electable.

Will former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claim frontrunner status, after each claimed victory in Iowa? Can Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe Biden each have standout moments to regain some momentum in their campaigns? And, can Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn..) have another strong debate showing?

“It’s going to be among the most intriguing debates in a few months,” said Brian Sobel, a San Francisco Bay Area political analyst. “There are some candidates fighting for the top, and others fighting for relevancy—period.”

Here’s what you should know ahead of tonight’s Democratic debate.

Which candidates qualified for tonight’s debate in New Hampshire?

Seven candidates—one more than last month’s debate in Iowa—have qualified for Friday’s contest:

Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is climbing in several polls, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, will not be on the debate stage.

With even stricter requirements than previous debates, candidates had to qualify through a combination of poll results and fundraising. The DNC demanded that candidates need to receive 5% or more support in four national or early state (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) DNC-approved polls, or at least 7% support in two DNC-approved early-state polls.

Additionally, campaigns needed to show that they’ve received donations from a minimum of 225,000 unique donors, with at least 1,000 unique donors in at least 20 states or territories. 

New Hampshire may have more meaning because of the chaos in Iowa as the caucus gave an unexpected boost for Buttigieg, a show of stability for Sanders and slides for Biden and Warren as the latter two try to regain momentum Friday night.

How to watch tonight’s Democratic debate online—even without cable

Friday’s debate will air live on ABC, WMUR-TV, which is owned by Hearst Television.

You can also watch the debate online and on mobile devices via a live stream available at Apple News, on ABC News Live, ABC’s streaming channel available on the ABC News site, and its app on iOS, Android, as well as streamers, including Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.

YouTube will also stream the debate. And SiriusXM Radio channels 116 and 124, TuneIn, and ABC News Radio will broadcast the event.

4 things to watch for during the debate

Besides the “Bernie and Buttigieg” show, the other five candidates will be battling to show their value onstage to New Hampshire voters and the nation. Sure, there will be some talk about the caucus failure in Iowa and the Senate acquitting Trump, but the candidates will quickly pivot to preach their own aspiring presidential platforms.

1. A showdown between Buttigieg and Sanders

Buttigieg and Sanders showdown at New Hampshire debate
All eyes will be on Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders coming out of Iowa after they both claimed victory in the days following the chaotic caucuses.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Friday’s debate could turn out to be a spirited discussion between the self-proclaimed winners of the Iowa Caucus, the surprising Buttigieg and the resilient Sanders.

Each candidate comes in with momentum as Buttigieg, at age 38, seeks to become the youngest president in U.S. history, and Sanders, at 78, wants to become the oldest U.S. president ever elected. Will the two take issue over the other’s healthcare plans, the economy, and climate change as they vie for the top spot?

If Buttigieg does well, it will give him another notch in his belt as he’s been attracting standing room only crowds during his gatherings more than even his organizers would have expected, said Emily Baer-Bositis, an assistant political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

“His small-town charm is resonating as he’s been coming here quite a bit as voters do care about someone who can win and he beat expectations,” said Baer-Bositits about Buttigieg. “He has a folksy charm that those in New Hampshire respond to.”

Sobel said he’s surprised Buttigieg did well in Iowa and expects the candidate to have plenty of confidence coming into Friday’s contest.

“He kind of rocked the Democratic party as a disruptor this week,” Sobel said about Buttigieg. “If there are some in the party who may think that Sanders isn’t electable, I don’t believe they were looking at Buttigieg after his impressive showing.”

While Vermont’s Sanders may win in the neighboring “Granite State” of New Hampshire as he did in spectacular fashion in 2016, Sobel said Buttigieg is starting to “check a lot of the boxes” so far in terms of his viability as a candidate.

Buttigieg still needs to work on attracting support from Black and Latino and black voters, key pieces in the upcoming Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary.

“He’s certainly a threat,” Sobel said.

2. Will Warren rebound in an effort to possibly win New Hampshire and save her flailing campaign?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to be the “unity candidate.” Will she be able to make the case on the debate stage in New Hampshire?
Elijah Nouvelage—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Look for the Massachusetts senator to come out swinging on the debate stage as Warren is trying to rebound from a third-place finish in Iowa and seeing her once frontrunner status continue to downslide.

The incline for Warren has gotten steeper and it was always going to be that way, Sobel believes, as the debate and the New Hampshire primary becomes a test for her, her campaign and the fundraising needed to remain in the presidential race.

“You will see Warren hitting Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg strongly than the other candidates,” Sobel said. “She’s in danger and fading fast enough that she’s almost not important in the current discussion. She might have the biggest challenge of any of the former frontrunners.”

Warren is seen as a bridge between the progressive Sanders and a non-traditional candidate like Buttigieg, Baer-Bositis said. But voters likely don’t want a bridge candidate as Warren simply can’t afford a third- or fourth-place finish in New Hampshire on Tuesday, the college professor said.

“Warren would want to make up for her standing in Iowa with a strong performance,” Baer-Bositis said. “She needs to come in second place or higher, and she certainly needs to receive more votes than Biden.” 

3. Which Joe will Biden show up?

The stakes for former Vice President Joe Biden are high after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Earlier this week, Biden said it would be a “risk” for the Democrats to nominate a small-town mayor like Buttigieg.

Now, some wonder if it will be a risk nominating the former vice president who has the look of a frontrunner but hasn’t performed consistently well during the seven previous debates.

That has to change after a fourth-place finish in Iowa, in which he admitted had been a sobering “gut punch.” 

Biden, who was taken an above the fray approach among his fellow Democratic rivals and resorting to taking shots mostly at Trump, now has to the aggressor going forward, Sobel said.

The stakes are higher now as Biden has shown some signs he’s shedding some of his common decency mantras during his campaigning this week.

He told supporters in Somersworth, N.H., earlier this week that Sanders is too liberal to win the presidency.

“He calls himself a democratic socialist. Well, we’re already seeing what Donald Trump is going to do with that,” Biden said.

Then he took a shot at the moderate Buttigieg: “I do believe it’s a risk, to be just straight up with you, for this party to nominate someone who’s never held an office higher than (the) mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana. I do believe it’s a risk.”

Sobel still doesn’t think Biden “has it in him” to really take an aggressive stance.

“It’s not in his recent nature to be overly snarky and throw someone into a fight,” Sobel said. “Party stalwarts say he hasn’t had some good debates and he’ll get stronger. Well, it better start sooner than later.

“The voting will signal whether Biden stays in the race, not the party bigwigs,” Sobel said.

Something has to change or Biden may be an afterthought even before getting to the South Carolina primary in which he’s favored to win.

4. Klobuchar’s and other longshot candidates’ last stand?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar risks getting lost in the shuffle as Biden and Warren look to regain their footing in New Hampshire.
Caroline Brehman—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

Klobuchar’s surprising finish in Iowa may be attributed to tapping into her neighboring Minnesota roots. But New Hampshire might be a make-or-break moment as she continues to try breaking in the top tier of candidates.

But with Warren and Biden both trying to step up their games to garner votes, Klobuchar might get lost in the shuffle on the debate stage Friday as likely will the charismatic Yang and the Trump-bashing Steyer.

The question is will any of the lower-tier candidates survive as the 2020 debate season ramps up. After Friday’s debate, there’s another in Nevada, on February 19, ahead of that state’s Feb. 22 caucuses.

Also, South Carolina will have a debate on Feb. 25, four days ahead of the state’s primary on Feb. 29.

Three days later, on March 3, it will be Super Tuesday when 14 states, including California, Texas, and Virginia, to name a few, will hold its primaries.

However, at this moment, Sobel thinks the Democratic party is “not confident” that whoever emerges from the field could beat Trump.

“It’s heavy stuff. New Hampshire is going to probably send a couple of more candidates packing as the Democratic party wants to rally around someone,” Sobel said. “But right now, we don’t know who that’s going to be?”

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