The Democratic debate: Will it make a difference?

There’s lot of buzz ahead of the first debate for the US Democratic hopefuls slated for Tuesday.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has become a challenge to fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of debates [AP]
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has become a challenge to fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of debates [AP]

I have a thing with airports. It doesn’t matter how early I get to one, there is always some issue that comes up, which means I am the last one on the flight.

I’m really going to have to work on that, given I’ll probably be travelling a lot more now that the campaign for president of the United States is under way.

It’s true the election isn’t for 13 months, but the race is on. I am currently sitting in the middle seat on my way to Las Vegas, Nevada. The first debate for the Democratic hopefuls is happening there Tuesday night.

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The media loves debates; they get ratings. The pundits need debates because they will chew on the red meat tossed from the stage for weeks. The American voters will tune in by the millions, but can one debate so far from the actual election day make a difference?

I think in this case it might.

I am not saying it will determine the election. I don’t expect on Wednesday to be able to tell you who will be the democratic nominee. It’s too far away, and we can’t know what world events will shape the campaign. 

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There is one thing debates can definitively do: They can kill a candidacy pretty quickly. Remember Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry stumbled the last time around when asked what three federal agencies he would get rid of. He couldn’t remember the last one and responded: “Oops”.

There was no way he could come back from that. He tried again this time around, but the image was set. The morale of the story: Presidents do not say “oops”.

There are two clear front-runners on the Democratic side right now. Former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are doing the best in polls.

There will be three other candidates on stage that collectively are polling at one percent. This is the best chance for Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee to stand out. The former senators and governors have this one chance to introduce themselves to voters.

You know what your mother always said about that: “You never get another chance to make a first impression.” It’s like that but on steroids. 

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They will be trying to knock Clinton and Sanders off their game. They will try to get the attention. It’s a long shot, but that is one thing to look for.

The other thing to pay attention to is Sanders. His campaign has shocked all of established Washington. His policies can best be described as having a socialist bent. He doesn’t look like the polished politician we’ve become used to seeing in the race for president.

Still, his campaign has a huge amount of momentum. He almost raised almost as much money as Clinton in the last quarter. The vast majority of his donors are giving small amounts. The enthusiasm, especially among younger voters, is growing.

If you are thinking this sounds reminiscent of the early Barack Obama campaign, you would be right. Sanders’ campaign has a very similar feel.

The last thing to keep an eye on is the anger factor. If you look at who is doing surprisingly well in both political parties, it is the outsiders. I know Sanders has spent years in Congress, so you wouldn’t think to put that label on him, but it is definitely how he’s seen.

On the Republican side, businessman Donald Trump is far in the lead. He’s gotten there without having to give hardly any policy plans. He mostly says he’s “going to make America great again”. He promised Americans they will win so much, they will get tired of winning.

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There is something Sanders and Trump have in common. They are tapping into the anger many Americans feel. Sanders promises to hold Wall Street accountable, to tax them so everyone can go to college for free. He’s promising to tackle the growing income inequality.

Trump has managed to tap into Republican fear that America is in the decline. By promising to fund his own campaign, he is playing to Americans’ anger over corporate America’s outsized influence in elections.

The candidates are going to have to find a way to say even though they have all been part of the establishment; they can fight it if they win the presidency. They have to tell Americans they understand they are angry without coming off as angry themselves.

So on Wednesday, we will know who “won” or who “lost” the debate. It matters, but we won’t know who will win the democratic nomination. I’m going to have to log a lot more airlines miles before we can talk about that. That is if I can make it to the plane in time.

Source: Al Jazeera


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