As the nation adjusts to life amid the coronavirus pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders will face off Sunday in the first head-to-head debate of the Democratic presidential primary season.
To punctuate the impact of the crisis on the campaigns, the debate was moved from its initial location in Arizona to Washington, DC, to cut down on travel and will be held without an audience as cities and states have cut down on large gatherings of people to minimize the opportunities for infection.
Sanders telegraphed his debate strategy last week, promising to hound the former vice president on progressive issues that are near to the hearts of Sanders’ supporters – including health care, income inequality, climate change and the escalating costs of college.
“Joe, what are you going to do to end the absurdity of the United States of America being the only major country on earth where healthcare is not a human right?” he told reporters in his hometown of Burlington, Vt., last week. “Are you really going to veto a ‘Medicare for All’ bill if it is passed in Congress?”
But the presidential hopefuls will also try to make the case to the American voters that they are better prepared than President Trump to lead the nation during the global coronavirus outbreak.
The debate is an opportunity for Sanders and Biden to burnish their White House credentials in front of a national audience before the next four primary contests Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
“People have been anxious to beat Trump, but now with coronavirus they are just anxious,” Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Hillary Clinton, told Reuters. “This will be a chance for both of them to look presidential.”
It will be the first debate since Democratic was winnowed in the past two weeks. Currently Biden is the favorite to win the nomination, and Sanders will need to have a strong performance to change that.
As of Saturday evening, Biden had 854 delegates compared to Sander’s 701, out of the 1,991 needed to win the nomination. Also, Biden is leading in polls of the four states that will hold primaries Tuesday.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer competed in the last debate on Feb. 25.
Since then, they have all dropped out of the race, with all of them except for Warren endorsing Biden.