What to expect in tonight’s first Democratic presidential debate

By Dave Andrusko

Demcandidates86Tuesday nights are family nights for our clan but we’ve agreed we all want to cut it off early to watch the first debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.

In a classic example of the lower the expectations game, many to most news accounts assure us that unlike those boisterous Republican debates, tonight’s debate featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee will be a love-fest, a snoozer, or both.

Dempopularity4One indication CNN wants it this way is that the well-respected Jake Tapper is not the moderator. Tapper got the second, very lengthy GOP debate going by having the candidates respond to charges made against them by their Republican rivals.

Not so for Anderson Cooper, who hosts tonight’s debate starting at 8:30 EST. From a story in the Washington Post this morning

“I’m always uncomfortable with that notion of setting people up in order to kind of promote some sort of a face-off,” Cooper said Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “I think these are all serious people. This is a serious debate. They want to talk about the issues. And I want to give them an opportunity to do that.”

Yeah, sure.

Cooper’s milquetoast approach notwithstanding, things could get interesting tonight. When you’re lounging at 1 or 2 percent, you need to get people listening and noticing you. That is not ‘attacking,’ that is letting the public know that your opponents are not perfect and that you believe you have better ideas.

Quick note about the latest Washington Post/ABC poll which is headlined, “Hillary Clinton’s declining image numbers inch upward.”

Two points. First, those numbers had nowhere to go but up and the change is within the margin of error. From 45% approval and 53% disapproval (a net minus eight) in late August, now the poll says 47% approval to 49% disapproval(a net minus two).

The miniscule improvement was not among Democrats but “independents — and Republicans, where she had nowhere to go but up,” according to Philip Bump of the Post.

Second, if you look at registered voters, there is also a slight improvement but Clinton’s net rating is not minus two but minus seven: 45% approval as compared to 52% disapproval.

As Bump writes, “We’ll note that, for her recent improvement, Clinton is still the least positively viewed Democrat among the three that poll the highest. At least on net.”

The second is Sanders and the third of the three is Vice President Joe Biden whose intentions are yet to be revealed.

If you have a chance, watch the debate tonight on CNN beginning at 8:30 EST.

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