Preview of tonight's debate

Cross posted at DebateScoop.
Eight Democratic presidential candidates debate tonight at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire from 7 to 9 p.m. The debate can be seen on CNN, WMUR, and the websites of these, the co-sponsors of the debate along with the New Hampshire Union Leader.


Read below the fold for pre-debate notes and analysis.

The Democrats' debate will be followed Tuesday night by Republican a debate from the same sponsors. The twin debates were originally scheduled for April, but were crowded out of the calendar.


The field:

John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Gravel. Hillary and Obama were the last to commit to this debate. They had originally pledged to only debate at DNC sponsored debates, a diplomatic way of limiting their debating to once a month or so. But after Edwards and the rest said they were attending this New Hampshire debate, Obama relented, followed the same day by Hillary.


Format.

Two hours. In the first hour candidates will stand at podia and answer questions in 5 minute chunks initiated by Wolf Blitzer and followed up by New Hampshire panelists according to today's Union Leader article:

The format tonight and Tuesday will be quite different from the "quiz show" rotation used in recent presidential debates. Most questions will mark the start of a roughly five-minute segment. The initial answer will trigger follow-ups from Blitzer or the panelists. Those additional questions usually will go to other candidates.


The second half hour will be "town hall" style, with the candidates seated and answering questions from a pre-screened audience of registered New Hampshire Democrats.

I have inferred from this Blue Hampshire report about Bill Richardson, that candidates will be able to ask one another questions in the follow up:

"The format is a very good one." Because candidates will be allowed to ask each other questions, Richardson predicted that "some sparks will fly" on Sunday.


Even though it was supposedly random, Edwards, Clinton and Obama will be positioned in the center.


Will "sparks fly"?


Richardson seems to hope so and Chris Dodd says he hopes to challenge Hillary and Obama on the war. Edwards has said he hopes to "show strength." The Union Leader article speculates some more about the candidates' strategies.

The CNN site says war is the main issue, and has a link to a brief video they call Democrats' "game plans," which claims Hillary has the most to lose and that Obama and Edwards will try to stress their anti-war credentials, while Obama should appeal to independents who can vote in either primary. There really is no sourced reporting on the game plans. Their Political Ticker blog has a fair bit . Their televised preview begins at 5pm with Lou Dobbs hosting.

Issues.

Iraq. Biden will continue to stress that he is the most serious candidate on Iraq, as he did not vote against the war funding bill as did the other three sitting Senators.

Immigration. It's the hottest topic in the news, but the issue splits the GOP candidates while all of the Democrats favor some form of "comprehensive" reform. Their only disagreement is about how to improve the bill that is on the table. Labor, a major target constituency of the candidates is divided on the issue, however.

Health Care. Obama came out with his plan earlier this week. It's a top tier issue, but the details may be too messy to reveal much. Expect Edwards to use his passive/aggressive approach to point out that he was first to lay out a plan and that Obama's plan does not include a mandate for universal coverage.

GLBT issues. A civil unions bill just was passed and signed in New Hampshire. Will there be a question on that?

The audience.

While the New Hampshire audience is important, the media and national perceptions are still the most important targets at this stage. First, New Hampshire residents will get many more visits and publicity from the candidates between now and January. Second, the media needs to breath new life into the story that has become stale with Hillary as front runner since the last debate when, after the spin dust had settled, Obama was declared beaten by Hillary and Edwards was ignored.

What I'll be looking for.

Can Obama front-load his answers as a good debater must when only given a minute? If he shows improvement he will get positive coverage.

Can Edwards do anything to become more prominent?

Who will be attacked by Gravel, Kucinich, and the others at the bottom?

Can Richardson perform well? Last time he was just gaining momentum but then was hurt by his performance, especially when he said Scooter White (who voted against Roe) was his favorite justice. He said he had a hard time hearing.
Can Dodd answer well in one minute? He said in today's TV blog (in answer to a question I posed) that his practice sessions were focused on getting his three minute answers down to one. A good question for Obama, too, by the way.

Tags: 2008 Presidential Primaries, Debate, debates, New Hampshire (all tags)

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