- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday night is the Democrats’ second presidential debate set to take place in Iowa and will be hosted by CBS News and the Des Moines Register. After front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s commanding performance in the first contest, the field has winnowed to three contestants: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Here’s a few things to watch out for:

How much will the Paris attacks weigh in on the debate and how will the candidates respond?

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the devastating terrorism Friday night that rocked Paris, left more than a hundred dead and was the bloodiest attack on French soil since World War II.

The debate’s initial focus will be on the attacks, according to various news sources citing people knowledgeable with the format. Foreign policy and national security have already been top issues in many of the Republican debates, with Saturday night being the first time the Democrats can substantially confront the issue in front of the American public.

How will Mrs. Clinton — who was responsible for many of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East while serving as Secretary of State — defend her record? Will Mr. Sanders or Mr. O’Malley criticize some of the choices that she or the administration has made? Just Friday morning, President Obama claimed the Islamic State was “contained” in an interview with ABC News. Will the contenders defend the Obama administration’s record, or run from it? What will their alternative proposals be?

Everyone on the debate stage can expect more questions about how they would combat the Islamic State and keep America safe.

Can Hillary Clinton turn in another commanding performance?

Many pundits say the race is Mrs. Clinton’s to lose, so she needs to avoid any major gaffs Saturday night as well as avoid being dragged further to the left on issues by Mr. Sanders, an independent and self-described socialist.

Although she enjoys a large lead in the national polls, she continues to face an investigation by the FBI into whether any classified material was sent or received on her private email server, hostility from committees on Capitol Hill, most notably the one looking into the events surrounding Benghazi, and consistent attacks on her record by her Republican competitors.

Therefore, Mrs. Clinton can’t just play it safe. She needs to be aggressive and formidable. As Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who supports Mrs. Clinton has said, she still “has a lot more selling to do,” to not only the Democratic base, but to the general electorate as well.

What will Bernie Sanders do?

Mr. Sanders is largely the wild card tonight, with many strategists interested in what he will say and do, largely because he’s so unpredictable and unscripted. Mr. Sanders has been more aggressive on the stump and may get tougher with Mrs. Clinton on many of the issues that both differentiate him and where he’s come out first on the issues.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, he said that Mrs. Clinton’s flip-flop’s on substantive policy issues, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, amount to a “character” issue voters should consider. Although he’s vowed to run a campaign void of criticizing Mrs Clinton, his sagging poll numbers may led to a more feisty Mr. Sanders.

Can Martin O’Malley jump-start his campaign?

Mr. O’Malley has been struggling to gain traction in the polls, still registering in the low single digits in many state surveys. Mr. O’Malley’s team has suggested they will look to highlight issues where he has led in Maryland — gun safety, death penalty and immigration — pulling out his executive record as well as presenting him as the candidate most likely to win the general election.

Mr. O’Malley is betting heavily his retail-politicking in Iowa will pay off. He has spent more time in the state than either of his competitors. Still, it’s a long and uphill battle for the former Maryland governor, and he really needs to stand out in a significant way to get some traction, strategists say. His campaign viewed the first debate as an introduction to voters and Saturday night’s debate as one dedicated to policy.

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