- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Democrats will have their first presidential debate in Las Vegas this evening. Here’s five things to watch:

Will debate moderator Anderson Cooper and CNN take it easy on the candidates?

The last debate CNN hosted was for the Republicans, when it openly signaled it wanted to pit the GOP candidates against one another. Jake Tapper, moderator of the Republican debate, told CNN: “What the team and I have been doing is trying to craft questions that, in most cases, pit candidates against the other — specific candidates on the stage — on issues where they disagree, whether it’s policy, or politics, or leadership. Let’s actually have them discuss and debate.”

Anderson Cooper on the other hand, has said not to expect face-offs at the democratic primary debate, only pointed, substantive questions.

“I think these are all serious people. This is a serious debate. They want to talk about the issues. And I want to give them an opportunity to do that,” Mr. Cooper said on CNN this weekend.

A double standard? We’re going to have to wait and see.

Who will have their Carly Fiorina moment?

Carly Fiorina went from polling at around 1 percent nationally, to being a top-tier GOP candidate after two successful debate performances. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are both polling low in the democratic race and need a break out moment.

Mr. Webb is running an unconventional campaign and has shown himself to be a skilled debater in the past with a strong grasp on policy, and seemingly has nothing to lose if he choices to take on front-runners Hillary Rodham Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders.

Mr. O’Malley has criticized the Democratic National Committee for holding too few debates, meaning expectations might be higher on his performance tonight. Still, his team is no doubt aiming for a stand-out night, where he can make his case to an audience who still maybe unfamiliar to who he is.

Will Hillary Clinton dominate or stumble?

Mrs. Clinton is a proven debater — she dominated the majority of her contests in the 2008 cycle, winning nearly 80 percent of the several debates the DNC conducted. She’s sound on policy and recalling statistics, and is good thinking on her feet.

Where she stumbled last time was coming up with a position not yet thought through or tested by her team. Last cycle, that was whether she supported issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. She wavered in her position on stage, allowing her competitors to jump on the moment and gain traction painting her as wishy-washy and non-committal.

Will Bernie Sanders take-off his kid gloves?

Mr. Sanders team has so far not directly attacked Mrs. Clinton, instead focusing on his own policy and background. Mrs. Clinton has, for her part, done the same. Will Mr. Sanders forcefully take on Mrs. Clinton where their resumes differ? Most notably in foreign policy, support for Wall Street, and Mrs. Clinton’s recent flip-flop on the Trans-Pacific Trade deal, which Mr. Sanders has long opposed?

Moreover, will any of the other four contenders on the debate stage with Mrs. Clinton challenge her on her home-brewed email server while secretary of state and the threat of cyber breaches and national security?

Will Joe Biden be missed?

CNN is holding a debate podium just in case the Vice President Joseph R. Biden makes a last-minute arrival, though no one expects him to. Mr. Biden undoubtedly will be watching the debate on television, however, and weighing his need to enter the race at this late stage.

If Mrs. Clinton falters, or if Mr. Sanders stumbles in coming off as stern and unlikable, Mr. Biden may be more lured into the presidential frenzy. If all candidates hold their own and turn in respectable performances, Mr. Biden may be less convinced that the party needs his candidacy.

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