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Feisty debates with Biden and Sanders standing center stage

Four of the five top-polling White House contenders will be on stage tonight, for what is being billed as the main event in the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates.

But grabbing the most attention and generating the most friction will probably be the two veteran contenders standing in the center stage – former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont


Biden – the clear front runner right now in the nomination race – is expected to face incoming fire from his rivals. Some of those jabs could come from Sanders, and vocal Biden critic who remains the former vice president's closest competitor in the polls. And Sanders may also need to dodge arrows over his brand of democratic socialism, which some argue is moving the party too far to the left.

The former vice president's name remained remarkably absent during Wednesday night's first debate when none of the 1

0 contenders – including frequent Biden critic Sen. Elizabeth Warren – took the opportunity to swipe at the front-runner.

"Everyone expects there to be enormous fireworks between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden," said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic consultant who served as director of rapid response for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign

The progressive senator from Vermont – who battled eventually nominee Hillary Clinton in a 2016 Democratic nomination race test – has jabbed at Biden over the past two months over his vote in favor of the Iraq War, his support of free trade "The Sanders Campaign has consistently looked to Biden, his authoring of the 1994 crime bill that critics argue led to the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, his" middle ground "climate change proposal, and his fundraisers with top-dollar donors


Before the second debate, Sanders gave no hint that he would launch broadsides against Bi

"We look forward to a serious debate about the serious issues faced by working families in this country," Sanders told reporters. "

The friction between Biden and Sanders symbolizes the Democratic Party's key ideological struggle between pragmatism during President Barack Obama's administration and Sanders' push to move the party leftward towards democratic socialism

It's not just Sanders who was willing to call out the former vice president. The two candidates standing aside Biden and Sanders have nipped at the front-runner. Sen. Kamala Harris of California criticized Biden over the crime bill and 37-year-old South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has repeatedly emphasized that it's time for "new leadership" and a generational change, an indirect snipe at the 76-year old former vice

Biden's coming out of the toughest week of his White House bid. His unforced error of recalling how he found common ground with segregationist senators to spotlight his ability to get things done has offered his rivals new ammunition.

To date, Biden's refrained from returning fire.

Asked earlier this month if he stayed restrained on the debate stage, Biden told Fox News "I think the worst thing we could do is get into a match where we go after each other in the Democratic Party. So I'm going to try my best not to be negative relative to my opponents. "

While he vowed not to" go down to anyone else's level when they started attacks, "Biden added that he would" respond to assertions " "


And a day ahead of the showdown, Biden advisors predicted their candidate would go high even if his rivals went low and told Fox News he would

Petkanas stressed that "the big danger" the candidates face is how to "engage with other candidates

For the others on the tonight's debate stage, there would be a downside to taking on the front runner. and show differences and contrasts without damaging themselves and allowing another candidate who is staying above the fray to emerge victorious at the end of this long slog. "

The debate also offers a chance for Harris and Buttigieg – the other top tier candidates on the stage. Harris – a former California Attorney General and a San Francisco District Attorney – is expected to make the case to a national audience that thanks to her prosecutorial skills, she is the best Democratic contender to go toe toe with Republican President Donald Trump

For Buttigieg, the showdown comes less than two weeks after the fatal shooting of a black man by a white South Bend police officer. The incident drew Buttigieg off the campaign trail and the mayor's been criticized by both minority leaders and the city's police union for his handling of the incident

"There is a real question about whether he should be on that debate stage or back in South Bend trying to mend fences with the police upset about police shooting. He really needs to do something positive, "argues Democratic stratagemist and presidential campaign veteran Jamal Simmons

Joining Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigeig on the debate stage are Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and best-selling spiritual author Marianne Williamson.

The ideological division evident in the first debate – with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio pushing back against a mostly progressive roster of candidates led by Warren – will probably play out again tonight, with Biden, Hickenlooper and Bennet taking on the progressives led by Sanders

For the lower-tier candidates – tonight's mission

Two of those one-percenters did break through on Wednesday night – by getting aggressive. Both former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio grabbed the spotlight by tangling with the former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas.

Former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, who is a Fox News contributor, emphasized on 'America's Newsroom' that "these candidates have to figure out a way it basically stand out. "

Veteran Democratic consultant and communications strategist Lynda Tran highlighted that lower-tier candidates" should focus on sharing their vision for the country – in real people, relatable terms – and showing both the seriousness they would bring to the Oval Office and some of their personalities. "

But Petkanas warns that this might be easier said than done

" The debate presents a real opportunity for [lower-tier candidates] but also challenges. They will be able to inject themselves into what's being billed as the 'Bernie-Biden' show and they will be able to do it in a smart way, "he questioned. "There's probably going to be very little oxygen for anything except Bernie and Biden."

One of those longer shots is Yang – whose pledge to give every adult American a universal basic income of $ 1,000 a month is grabbing some buzz. He told Fox News on Wednesday that he's "got half a dozen planned jokes."

And he noticed his position on the stage, he quipped that "the only thing standing between me and Biden is Buttigieg."

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