Top Dems Face Scrutiny at Debate 10/15 06:15
WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Joe Biden is facing baseless --- but persistent---
allegations of wrongdoing overseas that could undermine his argument that he's
best positioned to defeat the president. Bernie Sanders is recovering from a
heart attack that raised questions about his ability to withstand the vigor of
a presidential campaign. And Elizabeth Warren is fending off new scrutiny of
A dozen Democratic presidential candidates will meet on Tuesday for the most
crowded presidential debate in modern history. But it's the three leading
candidates --- Biden, Sanders and Warren --- who face the most intense
spotlight that could expose glaring liabilities in their quest for the White
The debate marks the first time the candidates will meet since the House
moved forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. While
they are united on that issue, the debate will again expose a political party
struggling to coalesce around a unifying message or messenger with the first
primary contest just over three months away. The event, hosted by CNN and The
New York Times, will be held in Ohio, a state that has long helped decide
presidential elections but has drifted away from Democrats in recent years.
The White House hopefuls will represent the political and personal diversity
that has come to define the Democratic Party of 2019: four women, four people
of color, an openly gay man and an age range that spans four decades.
Sanders, a Vermont senator, will be under pressure to prove he has the
physical and mental stamina to stand on a podium for three hours less than two
weeks after suffering a heart attack. Age was already a concern for the
78-year-old even before he was taken to a Nevada hospital earlier this month
and had two stents put in to clear a clogged artery in his heart.
Sanders and his allies insist the health scare has only strengthened his
commitment to the 2020 contest --- and his case for his signature health care
plan, "Medicare for All." Sanders plans to note, as he has in recent days, that
millions of Americans without health insurance could have been forced into
bankruptcy --- or worse --- under the same circumstances.
"Bernie is a political marathon runner," said Sanders' confidante RoseAnn
DeMoro, the former executive director of National Nurses United. "I think the
debate is going to be a great reassurance to the public."
The stakes are also high for Warren, Sanders' ideological ally, who stands
on the debate stage for the first time as a front-runner, a status that makes
her a top target of rivals in both political parties.
Biden, 76, and others have jabbed her intense focus on detailed liberal
policies that may be difficult to implement with a divided Congress. South
Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has highlighted the absence of a specific
Warren health care plan; she has embraced Sanders' single-payer plan instead.
Republicans, meanwhile, have raised questions about whether Warren, 70, was
actually forced from her teaching job because of a pregnancy nearly a half
century ago, a claim that has become a core part of her personal message.
Critics have pointed to past speeches and documents that suggest she left on
her own. Warren is standing by her story.
The issue is particularly threatening because it's not the first time she
has been accused of embellishing her biography. Warren, a Massachusetts
senator, has already apologized for claiming Native American heritage decades
ago. While it showed distant tribal ancestry, it also sparked a rebuke of
Warren from some Native Americans for attributing tribal membership to genetics.
"The good news is that most attempts to attack Warren actually make her
stronger," said Adam Green, a Warren supporter and co-founder of the
Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "Questioning whether she got fired for
being pregnant ended up increasing her breadth and intensity of support,
particularly among women."
Biden is no stranger to the pressure of front-runner status. But he enters
his fourth debate under the weight of intensifying questions from Trump about
his family's work overseas.
Without proof, Trump has repeatedly said that Biden's 49-year-old son,
Hunter, improperly profited from work in Ukraine and China while the elder
Biden was vice president. Trump also insists that Biden used his office to
protect his son from allegations of wrongdoing.
There is no evidence to any of the claims, and some of Biden's Democratic
rivals have defended him against Trump's baseless attacks. But he will almost
certainly be asked by the debate moderators to defend himself.
Hunter Biden will participate in a series of interviews on ABC in the hours
before the debate.
Biden addressed the situation over the weekend, promising to bar family
members from occupying any office within the White House if elected. But he has
yet to address Trump's allegations facing a national debate audience.
How he fares could determine whether he maintains his place atop the crowded
Many other candidates, meanwhile, are fighting for their very political
The debate will also feature Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New
York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Minnesota Sen.
Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Obama housing chief Julin
Castro, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
With the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Feb. 3, time is quickly running out for
the lower-tier candidates to make a move. Based on current polling, several
wouldn't qualify for the next round of debates.
The risks offer a compelling reason for the struggling White House hopefuls
to be more aggressive.
Buttigieg has squabbled with O'Rourke recently over guns, and he signaled
over the weekend that he planned to make a sharper distinction between himself
and Warren. Health care emerged as a key contrast among candidates in recent
debates and it likely will again, at least according to the 37-year-old mayor,
whose plan would give people a choice of whether to join a government-backed
health care system or their private insurer.
Speaking to a labor union audience at a presidential candidate forum in
Iowa, he warned that some of his competitors, without explicitly naming Warren,
would give Americans no choice.
"I'm not pushing Medicare for All whether you want it or not," Buttigieg