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2020 Sunday Trail Markers: What to know about this week's Democratic debates

Biden leads CBS News poll as top Dem nominee

Here's what you need to know in politics this week...

  • The Miami Thunderdome
  • Mayor Pete's rough Sunday
  • Enter Sestak
  • This week's schedule

THE MIAMI THUNDERDOME

The first Democratic presidential debates of the 2020 cycle will be held in Miami on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. And while the candidates themselves have done their best to sound nonchalant about their preparations, they still realize the stakes. 

This is the week where bottom-tier hopefuls make their bid for the big time and the front runners will try and winnow the field. For a look at what to expect, Caitlin Conant talked to Scott Mulhauser, Joe Biden's deputy chief of staff during the 2012 election, and veteran Republican strategist Todd Harris. 

Scott Mulhauser: "Candidates have spent weeks and months prepping for these debates and the debates to come. From grabbing an hour or two with their staff or their briefing books on the road to full-scale mock debates, prep is in full swing for these candidates, yet it has to be squeezed in amidst campaigning, existing jobs and trying to manage family lives as well. So locking down as much as possible now is key in the hopes of as few surprises as possible during the debates themselves.

"With limited time and crowded stages, candidates have fundamental choices to make, particularly with so many voters seeing them in action for the first time this week. While each needs to have policies and points locked down, a key tension for many will lie between how much to promote themselves and how much draw contrasts. The safer route, particularly for those who know they'll remain on future debate stages, is to promote their candidacies and visions and take on the President in an attempt to connect with voters, though some will likely find the desire to try to draw contrasts with other Democrats and even to draw blood all too tempting. Contrasts with fellow Democrats to garner airtime, headlines and supporters can succeed, but can also be a double-edged sword. With limited time and so many candidates, a hit can land, but a fumbled hit can boomerang back on you, costing you your viability and potentially even your candidacy."

Todd Harris: "No matter how high the ratings are for these debates, most voters will learn what happened based on the coverage, not the debate itself. So the goal for every candidate is to make it into the highlight reel. 

"Ideally, you want to create a moment that your base will love and news producers can't resist. The best way to do that is through conflict. It's too early for candidates to be attacking each other, so they will be tripping all over themselves to attack Trump. That's what their base wants to see most, and it makes for the best television. 

"Every Democratic activists dreams about the day their standard-bearer — whoever that may be — gets into the ring with Trump. The primary debates are an audition for that role. It's each candidate saying, 'Put me in coach, I'm ready to play.'"

MAYOR PETE'S ROUGH SUNDAY

Via Jack Turman: Pete Buttigieg faced his constituents at a tense town hall Sunday afternoon following the fatal shooting of Eric Logan, an African American man, by South Bend Police Sgt. O'Neill, a white police officer, one week ago.

Attendees shouted their concerns and their disappointment in city administration officials for not taking swifter action to address the strained relationship between the police department and the community. "There is a lot beneath the surface when it comes to trust and legitimacy around policing and race in our city," the South Bend mayor said, admitting that he had failed to diversify the city's police force.

Buttigieg insisted the city has made progress in regard to the promotion process, raising police discipline standards and increasing public data online. And Buttigieg told attendees that he will send a letter to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to look into the city's police department.

"As the mayor of the city, I want to acknowledge that those last two lines of effort, the effort to recruit more minority officers to the police department and the effort to introduce body cameras have not succeed," he said. "And I accept responsibility for that."

In the question-and-answer section, one attendee told Buttigieg to reorganize his department by Friday of next week to "get the racists off the streets," in reference to law enforcement officers.

Buttigieg responded among shouts from the crowd, "I will say that if anyone, who is on patrol is shown to be a racist, or to do something racist in a way that is substantiated, that is their last day on the street."

JOE SESTAK MAKES IT 25

Via Musadiq Bidar and Adam Brewster: Former Pennsylvania congressman and retired three-star admiral Joe Sestak announced Sunday he is running for president, becoming the 25th candidate to seek the Democratic nomination. Sestak, a Vietnam War veteran who also served in Iraq and Afghanistan, made his announcement in a video posted to his campaign website.

"We must convene the world for two primary objectives," Sestak says in his announcement video. "Putting a brake on climate change and putting an end to an illiberal world order's injustices."

Sestak, who served in the Navy for more than 31 years, is holding his first campaign event Sunday in Waterloo, Iowa. In his announcement video, he argued America "desperately needs a president with a depth of global experience and understanding."

ON THE TRAIL THIS WEEK

6/17 – Michael Bennet in DC; Joe Biden in DC/NYC; Pete Buttigieg in NYC; Julian Castro in DC; Kirsten Gillibrand in NYC; Kamala Harris in DC; Amy Klobuchar in NYC; Wayne Messam in DC; Seth Moulton in NH; Bernie Sanders in DC; Eric Swalwell in VA/DC; Elizabeth Warren in DC; Marianne Williamson in DC; Andrew Yang in DC

6/18 – Biden in NYC; President Trump in FL

6/19 – Biden in NH

6/21 – Bennet in SC; Beto O'Rourke in FL/SC; Biden in SC; Cory Booker in SC; Buttigieg in FL/SC; Bill de Blasio in SC; Castro in FL/SC; John Delaney in SC; Tulsi Gabbard in SC; Gillibrand in SC; Harris in SC; John Hickenlooper in FL/SC; Jay Inslee in SC; Klobuchar in FL/SC; Messam in SC; Sethy Moulton in SC; Tim Ryan in SC; Sanders in FL/SC; Eric Swalwell in FL/SC; Warren in FL/SC; Williamson in SC

6/22 – Bennet in SC; Beto in SC; Biden in SC; Booker in SC; Buttigieg in SC; Castro in SC; de Blasio in SC; Delaney in SC; Gillibrand in SC; Harris in SC; Hickenlooper in SC; Inslee in SC; Klobuchar in SC; Moulton in SC; Ryan in SC; Sanders in SC; Swalwell in SC; Warren in SC; Weld in NH; Williamson in SC; Yang in SC

6/23 – Weld in NH

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