Five things to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

The next step in the 2020 race for President comes tonight at an ABC News/Univision debate at Texas Southern University in Houston, as Democrats for the first time will only have one debate night, but again the stage will be crowded with ten candidates on hand.

With the first votes to be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire less than five months away, it's another important night for those candidates who have struggled to boost themselves into a stronger primary position.

The Iowa Caucus is on February 3. The New Hampshire Primary is the next week.

In other words, the clock is ticking on who has a realistic shot at winning the Democratic Party's nomination, and taking on President Donald Trump.

Here are a few things to look for tonight: 

1. Joe Biden vs Elizabeth Warren. Yes, there are ten candidates on the stage. Yes, there are another ten-plus candidates who didn't qualify for this debate and who are still running for the Democratic nomination. But this is the first time that Biden and Warren will have been on the debate stage together in this 2020 race. As has been demonstrated in the first two Democratic gatherings, it won't shock anyone if the folks from ABC News try to set the stage for some Biden vs Warren time in this debate, and attempt to pit them against each other. Obviously, it doesn't mean the two will have a cage match. But watch their interactions tonight.

2. There are eight other candidates. Look at that graphic of the candidates and remind yourself that this is not just about Biden and Warren meeting for the first time. Bernie Sanders will be next to Biden. Kamala Harris has had two good debates. There are others who would love to come up with one of those magic moments in a debate. The strategy choice remains a simple one - do you take your precious time on stage to talk about yourself and your own ideas? Or do you get drawn in to sniping at the leaders in the Democratic race.

3. Will this turn into a group attack on Biden? In the first two debates, Joe Biden has delivered some good and bad on the debate stage. If the other Democrats - along with the ABC moderators - decide to make the same gambit of going after the former Vice President, it could make this evening even trickier for Biden. But some on the Democratic side are starting to publicly make the case that these debates are hurting their own party - because they're not focusing enough on President Trump. It's an interesting issue for those not in the top tier. Is your goal to take down Biden? Or is your goal to take down the current President?

4. Hoping to get asked about your plans. The joke among those watching this race closely is that Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything - but, there is some truth to that, as she has set out policy on a wide range of items. Beto O'Rourke today is calling on banks and credit card companies to not allow their services to be used to purchase an assault weapon. He would probably like to talk about that tonight. In the previous debates, there have been very detailed discussions of health care, and the divide over Medicare For All. But not every candidate gets to talk about their own ideas on stage, and it has led some Democrats to feel like all they ever do is get asked about someone else's agenda.

5. So far, the debates haven't changed this race. Yes, Joe Biden's lead is not as big as it was a few months ago. But he's still at the top of the heap right now. Elizabeth Warren would be the one candidate who has come up in the polls. Two times, we have seen Kamala Harris have a good debate and surge in the polls. And then her numbers settle back, behind Biden, Warren and Sanders. Pete Buttigieg has been stuck behind Harris for the most part. And then comes everyone else. These debates are very important - but for the most part, they have simply reinforced the current race situation.  

Does the race stay the same?  Stay tuned.

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