It will only have been six days from when the remaining top Democratic presidential candidates met in Nevada, but there is plenty at stake in Tuesday’s debate.
The debate marks the final time the candidates will be on the same stage before next week’s Super Tuesday, when nearly one-third of all delegates will be decided. Tuesday’s debate is also coming off the most-watched Democratic debate in any nominating contest. Will even more Americans watch on Tuesday before making their final decision?
Before Super Tuesday comes a very important South Carolina Primary this Saturday, where former Vice President Joe Biden is in desperate need of a good performance.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 24, 8-10:15 p.m. ET
How to watch: CBS, CBSNews.com
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Businessman Tom Steyer
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Candidates earned at least 10% support in four national polls, or 12 percent in three South Carolina polls, or have at least one national delegate pledged from the Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada primaries.
Tuesday’s debate marks the second debate that has lifted the requirement to meet fundraising thresholds. This is what allowed Bloomberg and Steyer to enter the debate.
Steyer was left off the debate stage last week, but his strong polling in the South Carolina primary has put him back onto the debate stage.
Who isn’t on the stage
Only one Democrat still in the race, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who last participated in a debate in October, will be left off the stage.
Coming out of Nevada
Sanders earned a huge win in Nevada on Saturday, claiming 24 out of 36 national delegates. Nevada has placed Sanders as the clear frontrunner going into Saturday’s race in South Carolina. It also stopped the momentum of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had been leading Sanders in the national delegate count. Buttigieg only earned three delegates on Saturday.
South Carolina comes first
The South Carolina primary on Saturday is one of the upmost importance to Biden. His fledgling campaign struggled in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primaries. While he managed to finish second in Nevada, he only claimed nine of the 36 delegates up for grabs.
But South Carolina could be where Biden either regains his momentum, or where his campaign dies. South Carolina is the largest state so far to have a nominating race (56 delegates). It is also a state where Biden still holds a lead over Sanders and the field, although Biden now holds a more narrow lead in the polls.
A NBC News poll shows Biden leading Sanders 27-23, while a CBS News poll has Biden up 28-23. While Biden will likely not catch Sanders on Saturday, it could give him much-needed momentum going into the most important day of the race.
Then comes Super Tuesday
Next week marks the biggest night on the calendar. As voters in 14 states (and American Samoa) go to the polls next Tuesday, 1,334 delegates will be at stake. Among the top prizes for next week’s race will be California (415 delegates) and Texas (228 delegates). A KGTV poll had Sanders leading the state with 25%, with Bloomberg at 21% and Biden at 15%. In Texas, a University of Houston Poll had Sanders and Biden tied with 20% of the vote.
Bloomberg flat in first debate
Bloomberg participated in his first debate of the cycle, and his own campaign staff agreed the candidate had a slow start in the debate. The early minutes of the debate featured attacks from other candidates on his handling of “Stop and Frisk” as well as sexual harassment claims. Warren in particular took Bloomberg to task for not allowing employees bound by non-disclosure agreements to speak out. Last Friday, Bloomberg announced he would allow several women to exit from their NDAs if requested.
It is hard to gauge how much last week’s debate will impact his numbers, and the fact he’ll have another debate before Super Tuesday gives him an opportunity to negate some of the damage.
Eyes on Sanders
With Sanders now clearly the frontrunner, Democrats may shift their focus and attacks on Sanders. They could have some fodder, too.
On Sunday, Sanders said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that "it's unfair to simply say everything is bad" about former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s reign over Cuba.
Those comments drew some criticism from one of Biden’s advisers.
There is also the issue of electability, one that has become more of a focus as Sanders climbs the poll while maintaining a liberal stance on the issues.
The candidates could also be looking to slow down Sanders enough to make it challenging for him to reach 1,990 delegates before July's Democratic National Convention. A failure to earn 1,990 delegates before the convention forces a second round of voting, and allows hundreds of Democratic Party leaders a chance to be involved in the nomination.