Here’s Who Has The Most To Gain — And Lose — From The First Democratic Debates

The first round of presidential primary debates this week will give most of the two dozen Democratic contenders their biggest platform yet to present themselves to the American people.

The rapid-fire debate format — candidates will get just one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups — may be designed for maximum fairness. But the 20 Democrats set to participate in the debates Wednesday and Thursday night are hardly coming to the Miami stage on equal footing.

For most of the candidates stuck in the low single-digits in national polls, the first debates are a chance to make a strong national introduction as much as they are a forum to lay out a policy agenda. Candidates such as Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan or New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who cleared the threshold to take part in the debates but have yet to garner much national support, “really have nothing to lose,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

It’s a different story for the front-runners. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, has enjoyed a consistent double-digit polling advantage since announcing his 2020 run, and he will arrive at the debate Thursday as the prime target for most of the field, political analysts told CNBC.

“He has the most to lose, and the rest of the field will have their knives out,” O’Connell said. “They’re coming for him, period. The only question is whether or not they’re able to lay a glove on him.”

“Obviously some candidates are not thrilled. I’m sure Elizabeth Warren is the one who’s most unthrilled at the moment,” O’Connell said.

Of course, the Democrats’ most-wanted target is expected to be President Donald Trump himself. The president told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week that he is considering live-tweeting his reactions to the debates.

“Even though every candidate’s going to take a swipe at Trump, he has a lot to gain here,” O’Connell said, because “this is the most important time” for the incumbent president “to define his opponent.”

“This is exactly how [President Barack] Obama beat [former GOP nominee Mitt] Romney in 2012,” O’Connell said. “I mean, by the time he was the official nominee, he was already a dog-killer in some people’s eyes. ”

Read more from Kevin Breuninger at CNBC

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Analysis & Political Strategy