With dreams of winning Texas, Democrats to debate in Houston

Unlike the first two debates in Miami and Detroit, only ten candidates qualified for this debate - sponsored by ABC News and Univision - so, there is just a single night of questions and answers .

But ten politicians still make for a crowded stage.

"Yes, it will be messy, and candidates will not get a lot of time to speak," said Sarah Fulton, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University.

"Candidates need to make the most of their limited time by effectively contrasting themselves against their competitors, and delivering memorable moments," Fulton added.

The debate strategy is a basic calculus - how much time do you talk about your own ideas, and how much time do you give to giving the verbal back of your hand to another Democrat on stage?

Along those lines, this debate marks the first time that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will be on the debate stage together - whether they tangle directly will be watched closely.

Biden and Warren will be joined by Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Julian Castro.

Democrats are expected to return to the two-night debate scenario next month in Ohio, because of other candidates who have qualified for that gathering.

Both Warren and Sanders warmed up for this debate with big rallies in recent days - Sanders attracting what his campaign said was a crowd of 10,000 on Monday in Denver - and Warren on Tuesday gathered about 5,000 in Austin, the Texas state capital.

While Sanders and Warren were on the road drawing big crowds, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg  were all smiles as they were seated close to each other on a flight to Houston.

As this third Democratic debate arrives, the outlines of the race have stayed fairly stable over the past few months - Biden, Warren, and Sanders in the top tier - with Kamala Harris and then Pete Buttigieg trying to get into that group.

But after that - most of the other Democratic candidates have been unable to generate any kind of magic moment to launch themselves into a higher spot in this campaign - and that's especially true of Booker, O'Rourke, Castro, Yang, and Klobuchar.

Looking to the future - no matter the nominee - Democrats believe they are making inroads in Texas, which could again bring the state into play in a Presidential election.

They point to the retirement announcements of five Texas Republicans in the U.S. House already, and gains in once-reliable GOP suburbs made by Democrats in 2018.

But winning the Lone Star State in the race for President? 

"Do I think that Texas is moving towards becoming more purplish? Yes," professor Fulton told me this week. 

"Will it happen in 2020?" Fulton added. "I don't know - but I'm skeptical that it will happen in the immediate term."

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