The intensity between the two Democratic candidates for president is going to be turned up on Thursday when establishment candidate Hillary Clinton debates anti-establishment and democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders. This will be the first debate since the Iowa caucuses, the first debate without former Md. Gov. Martin O'Malley—who ended his bid Monday— and the last debate before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.
This debate, the Democrats' fifth, was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon. It was agreed to in principle between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns last week, but not sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee until Wednesday. A sanctioned debate means the candidate will be on the stage at the same time, unlike the town halls, which were not sanctioned by the DNC.
Clinton's campaign called for this pre-Granite State primary debate, and Sanders only agreed because Clinton also supported adding even more debates, which Sanders wanted. In addition to announcing this debate, the DNC has added a debate on March 6, in Flint, Mich., along with one in April and one in May, the venues and times for which have not yet been announced. That brings the total number to 10 from six.
DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in the statement announcing the new debate schedule, "Our debates have set viewership records because of our candidates' ideas, energy, and the strength of their vision to build on the progress we've made over the last seven years. We look forward to seeing them continuing to share Democrats' vision for the country."
Thursday's face-off, hosted by MSNBC, will take place at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, at 6 p.m. PST. Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow will be the moderators.
The two finished in a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, so Sanders will use this debate to build on the momentum that comes with nearly beating the presumptive Democratic nominee and to solidify his status as the poll leader. Sanders—who some refer to as America's favorite grandfather because they feel a personal, genuine connection to him—will go through his normal talking points of income inequality, Clinton's Wall Street connections and billionaires owning elections, among others.
His position on guns will likely be received better during this debate, due to the venue, than in previous ones, which could hurt Clinton if she tries to attack on that point. The senator will no doubt need to defend his universal healthcare plan and free public college and university educations for all from attacks that they cost too much and are impractical.
The former Secretary of State just wants to try to make the Granite State race as close as possible, while building on her national lead by explaining why she would be the better nominee. Her campaign message has shifted from being all about helping the middle class to to being the candidate who can win in the general election. Those same talking points will be on display, and she will likely use her technical victory in Iowa in making that claim.
Clinton will try to defend her record and make herself appear to be viable at the same time. She will likely say that she wants to improve the Affordable Care Act — without providing specifics — and go after Wall Street — also without as many details as Sanders.
She almost certainly wanted this debate because she was worried that Iowa would change the nature of the nominating contest nationally. It is unclear, however, which candidate stands to benefit most from the addition of more debates. The change could signal to Clinton's supporters that she needs help, which would attract donations. However, it also gives Sanders more time to explain and justify his liberal positions, prove he can be competitive and fight Clinton until the end and provide even more energy to his base of young supporters.