Democrats Eye a Debate Stage of Their Own

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 8.19.15 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN Monday, October 12, 2015



Good Monday morning. After watching their Republican counterparts take on one another in four debates, including the so-called undercard forums, the Democrats get their chance to argue among themselves and to see if they can meet expectations, exceed them or introduce themselves in a contest dominated by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The focus in the 2016 presidential race returns squarely to the Democrats this week, as candidates will head to Nevada on Tuesday night to take the debate stage for the first time. But those expecting fireworks may be disappointed.

Most of the attention has been focused on Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, the independent whose quick rise caught her and some of her advisers by surprise. Mrs. Clinton’s advisers have been preparing for a variety of topics on which to contrast with Mr. Sanders, and she made one of them clear last week.

“You’ve got a proposal? Tell us how you’ll pay for it,” Mrs. Clinton said in Iowa last week. She did not name Mr. Sanders. But the implication was clear: Mrs. Clinton has detailed how her policy proposals will be brought to bear, while Mr. Sanders’s plans are larger, costlier and with fewer specifics about how they will be put into action.
Mr. Sanders, for his part, has sharpened his contrasts with Mrs. Clinton, and hinted in an interview with MSNBC that Mrs. Clinton could not be trusted because of her changes in positions over the years. To highlight that point, he issued a news release about his no vote on the Iraq war as a congressman in 2002, a clear shot at Mrs. Clinton, whose yes vote as a senator helped cost her the presidential nomination in 2008.
And his spokesman tweaked her on Friday for her recent positions on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, saying: “What’s next? Will she call herself a democratic socialist?”
Still, both have made a point of saying they don’t want to make character attacks. The unknown factor is Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor whose candidacy has been deprived of oxygen by the presence of his rivals, and who has grown sharply critical of both of them. But this is Mr. O’Malley’s  best opportunity to introduce himself to the public in a real way, and he may pull some of the harder punches so as to leave a good, rather than aggressive, first impression.
And unlike at the Republican presidential debates so far, there’s little indication that the moderator is going to encourage a brawl. Anderson Cooper, of CNN, who will moderate the debate, said on Sunday that he was mindful that the candidates did not want a boxing match.
“I’m always uncomfortable with that notion of setting people up in order to kind of promote some sort of a face-off,” Mr. Cooper said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” 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.