Democrats will converge on Las Vegas tonight where the Party will stage the first of six presidential debates. While the entertainment value of tonight’s event will in all probability pale in comparison to a Republican “Trump fest” there is still good reason to watch.
Here is what I’ll be looking for.
Clinton enters tonight’s debate as the clear frontrunner. She has little to gain here and much to lose. She will certainly face questions about her emails, and her position on the Keystone Pipeline and the TPP trade agreement will generate some discussion. She has faced these inquiries hundreds of time before and I expect the she will have no problem handling them again.
The question for me is more about persona than politics. Clinton’s biggest challenge is to overcome the fact that people don’t trust her. They see her as a cold, calculating politician who will say or do whatever is necessary to win. Can she push aside that image? Can she reveal the open, funny caring side that her friends and family swear exists? People want a president that exudes strength and a command of the issues. But they want to like and respect him/her as well.
I expect Bernie Sanders to do well. He has a thorough grasp of the issues. His socialist message is the same one that he has been delivering for decades. His programs are popular. His political challenge will be to explain how he intends to pay for them. The smart money guys estimate that his programs will cost taxpayers an additional $18 trillion in government spending over the next decade.
Like Clinton he has a persona problem. People don’t view him as presidential. His wild hair and disheveled appearance are more the nutty professor than world leader. And he needs to watch his temper. He can be a bit of a prickly curmudgeon if provoked.
Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafe fill the bill. Each in his own way is an accomplished politician with a distinguished career. Each is hoping to use this evening to kick start campaigns that are essentially dead in the water. Visions of a Carly Fiorina like surge are dancing in their heads. I look for O’Malley to try to make headlines by going right after Clinton.