At 8 p.m. ET tonight, the draw begins!
What draw, you ask? The one that determines what night each of the 20 candidates who have qualified for CNN’s debates later this month will appear and with whom they will share the stage, of course! (Everything you need to know about the draw — including all the ways you can watch it — is here.)
I am pretty darn excited. For the draw — and the debate. And I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about what candidate mixes on stage would make for the best conversations and contrasts. My top six are below — let’s see if any of them happen. Luck of the draw!
1. Joe Biden vs. Kamala Harris: After the California senator dunked on the former vice president in the first debate — catching Biden totally off-guard with a question about his record on busing — the two appearing on stage again would be a recipe for a rematch that Biden would hope ends very differently. Actually scratch that: A rematch that Biden would have to make end differently.
2. Elizabeth Warren vs. Bernie Sanders: Warren, the Massachusetts senator, was the lone top-tier candidate in the first night debate last month, meaning we didn’t get to see her interact with the other candidates that polling suggests are her main rivals for the nomination. I think the most interesting matchup in that group for Warren is Sanders, who she is directly competing with for the votes of the most liberal elements of the party. Warren is winning that fight of late, meaning Sanders might see the debate as a chance to reset the discussion.
3. Sanders vs. Harris: These two candidates were on the same stage in the first debate, but never really litigated the central question that still lingers over Harris’ hard-to-pin-down position on health care: Does she believe, as Sanders does, that ALL private health insurance needs to be eliminated in favor of “Medicare for All” government-run system? Harris has been squishy on that question and Sanders would seem the right person to hash it out with her.
4. Julian Castro vs. Beto O’Rourke: Much like Harris-Biden, the fight over immigration between the former San Antonio mayor and the former Texas congressman was one of the most notable clashes in the first debates. Unlike Harris-Biden, however, this one had a personal edge to it — as though Castro was unleashing months of pent-up frustration that O’Rourke had someone become a political wunderkind without, in his mind, any real “there” there. O’Rourke is scuffling badly at the moment, and needs to find a way to show signs of life. Maybe a rematch with Castro could do the trick?
5. Biden vs. Michael Bennet: Yes, I know a bit of a weird one BUT: Go back and watch the second night debate last month with Biden and Bennet. The Colorado senator nailed the former vice president when the latter tried to make the case that he had a long record of finding ways to work with Republicans. Bennet jumped in to argue that the deals Biden cut — often with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) always were better for Republicans than Democrats. That confrontation got overshadowed by Harris’ taking on Biden, but it’s the sort of thing that could matter if the two men find themselves on stage together later this month.
6. Biden vs. Cory Booker: The New Jersey senator has been, without question, the most outspoken critic of Biden in the race to date — demanding Biden apologize for seeming to praise a former segregationist senator and then getting into a long back and forth with the former vice president about whether such an apology was needed. That clash with Biden is, by far, the most attention Booker has received in the race so you can be sure that if the two men are on a debate stage, he will try to raise the issue(s) again.
The Point: I could come up with 10 more candidate matchups that intrigue me. Easily. And I will — once we know the draw!