Dem Debate Will Be More Than Hillary Vs. Bernie

by Tiffany Thomas

After months of hearing from the crowded field of GOP contenders, it's finally time for the Democrats to get a turn. CNN is hosting the first Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night with the party's five leading candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. And while it's natural to assume that (as the party's leading candidates) Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will spend much of the debate clock sparring against each other, the Democratic debate will be more than a Clinton/Sanders face-off.

The broad purpose is the same as in the two Republican debates: to help voters understand each candidate's stance on major issues. But the Democratic debate will be an entirely different experience from the GOP version. The Democrats have been pretty civil to one another, for starters, so it's safe to say that the debate stage will be quieter. Is that a bad thing? Not according to CNN president Jeff Zucker, who recently told The New York Times that they planned to use the respectful atmosphere to encourage more direct questioning of each candidate. And, with just five presidential hopefuls to manage, moderator and CNN host Anderson Cooper will have a much easier job encouraging an actual debate on issues like gun control, income inequality, and immigration.

So, even though Clinton and Sanders are the leading candidates — and both Democratic frontrunners have snagged coveted center spaces on the debate stage — they won't be the only reasons to watch on Tuesday night. Here are five more exciting things we're likely to see on the CNN debate stage.

1. The Field Is Small, So We're Guaranteed To Hear From Everyone

In sharp contrast to the unwieldy size and atmosphere of the GOP debates, the Democrats will have a much more intimate setup: Clinton will be at the center podium, CNN confirmed on Monday, with O'Malley and Sanders on her left and right. Webb and Chafee will be positioned at either end of the stage. And that's it. The candidates will each have a full two minutes at the start of the broadcast to introduce themselves and their ideas to the American public, according to the Times.

2. Even Without Joe Biden There, Well, He'll Still Be There

If you're wondering whether Vice President Joe Biden will make a surprise appearance on the debate stage Tuesday night, you're not alone. Even though Biden has so far said that he will not be attending the debate — and has yet to declare his decision to run for president — CNN has made plans for a Biden appearance. Newsweek reported on Monday that CNN has a sixth podium on standby, and Cooper confirmed to The Huffington Post that he's preparing questions for Biden, just like any other participant.

More than likely, the other candidates will be doing the same, whether or not Biden actually makes an appearance. Biden is currently polling as high as second place with voters when his name is placed on the primary ballot, so even if he isn't on stage, the other candidates will be fighting his numbers.

3. O'Malley Will Be Looking For A Way To Be Memorable

To be sure, the Democratic debate is O'Malley's first chance to introduce himself and his ideas to voters. O'Malley is largely unknown by most Democrats, except for his visit to Baltimore during the riots that took over the city this summer — and the unfortunate similarities between O'Malley and The Wire's Thomas Carcetti. Despite a record of accomplishment and serious potential as a national figure, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor is polling between 1 and 2 percent.

4. Chafee And Webb Will Be Vying For Best 'Comeback Candidate,' Too

Who are Chafee and Webb? So far, voters simply don't know. Chafee and Webb are polling at around 0 percent, according to CNN. What's worse, the two candidates may be best remembered for making major gaffes during the Democratic primaries: Chafee suggested that the United States adopt the metric system to improve international relations, and Webb defended the Confederate flag in the wake of a racially-motivated mass killing in South Carolina earlier this year.

5. Policy, Policy, Policy

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to hear how the presidential candidates actually plan to address major issues like equal rights, gun violence, climate change, and prison reform. The GOP candidates struggled to be clear on each of those points, and didn't get much farther than the headlines. On Tuesday night, with the five Democratic candidates little more than touching distance from the audience, perhaps it'll finally be time to get into the details.