Viewers guide to Democratic debate: 5 things to watch for tonight

The fourth Democratic primary debate on Tuesday night will include 12 contenders and is the first since the impeachment inquiry began.

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Workers prepare banners before the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN and The New York Times

The fourth Democratic primary debate on Tuesday night will include 12 contenders and is the first since the impeachment inquiry began.

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WASHINGTON – The fourth Democratic primary debate on Tuesday night takes place as the three frontrunners — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — have the most at stake in the outcome. Pay close attention: There will be 12 contenders on stage.

The debate is hosted by CNN and The New York Times and is the first since the launching of the formal and fast-moving Trump impeachment probe triggered in part by the president’s drive to dig up dirt on Biden’s son, Hunter. Sanders comes to the debate in his first major public appearance since his heart attack two weeks ago.

5 things to watch for

• Will Sanders, the Vermont senator, look and act healthy? Will his rivals ask questions about his health if the moderators don’t raise the issue? He has not yet released medical records.

• How will Biden, the former vice president, deal with the Trump team assault on him regarding his son, Hunter, and his business dealings in Ukraine and China? The formal impeachment inquiry was triggered when Trump asked the Ukraine president to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden.

Biden comes into this debate as hisfront-runner status is challenged by Warren, the Massachusetts senator.

Hunter Biden is not accused of doing anything illegal but it does look like he traded on the family name, which isn’t great. By the way, Trump’s children have made their careers trading on the family name — and two of them are in the White House as senior advisers.

President Donald Trump and his defenders are now using Hunter Biden to distract and deflect from the impeachment inquiry and how the president has asked three nations — Russia, China and Ukraine — to help him politically.

Biden has some choices to make: just pound on Trump or explain what Hunter was up to? And will his rivals make the case that Biden is damaged goods because of this?

And will Biden in the course of the debate make other mistakes that raise questions about his age and fitness?

Warren has been relatively untouched in the three prior debates. She may have the biggest challenge tonight, to carve out a path that lets her vault over Biden and Sanders. She will have to decide if she wants to go after them and make the argument that could go something like: for better or worse, they have flaws that will make it easier for Trump to win a second term.

Now that Warren is gaining ground, will her rivals attack her tonight? Will she be more aggressive? Will she do something to deflect the charge from Republicans that the Democrats are all socialists?

Kamala Harris, the California senator, was never able to leverage the attention she got in the first debate, when she attacked Biden over school busing views he had as a senator. What can she do Thursday night to make a positive difference?

Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend mayor, doing great fundraising. Like Harris, he has to figure out a way to stand out. Easier said than done.

The last debate was in September. The next debate is in November.

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