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2020 Sunday Trail Markers: What to watch for in the Democratic debate this week

Battleground Tracker: Warren extends lead in early states
CBS News Battleground Tracker: Warren extends lead in early states 04:54

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

  • What to watch for in the fourth Democratic debate
  • CBS News Battleground Tracker Poll: Warren extends lead across early states, leads in New Hampshire and draws even with Biden in Iowa
  • Partisans dig in on impeachment, but majority of Americans say Trump administration should cooperate with inquiry
  • Louisiana heads into November runoff in race for governor between John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone
  • This week's schedule


Twelve Democratic presidential candidates take the stage Tuesday in Westerville, Ohio for the fourth presidential debate, which will be co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN. The ten who qualified for the third debate, plus billionaire Tom Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, have also reached the threshold for the debate, which required reaching at least 2% in four qualifying polls and raising funds from 130,000 unique donors.

Since the last debate, there have been two massive political developments: first, the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, based on a whistleblower's complaint involving Mr. Trump's call with the Ukrainian president, in which he called for an investigation of political rival Joe Biden.

And second, in Syria, as CBS News Political Unit associate producer Eleanor Watson notes, Turkey is in week two of an incursion into Syria following President Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The Democratic candidates have all spoken out against the move. They criticized him for abandoning the Kurds who have been crucial partners to the U.S. in the fight against ISIS and are now facing an onslaught from Turkish forces who consider them terrorists.

In the debate, the candidates could pivot to chastising the president for abandoning U.S. allies since that has been a theme on the campaign trail, but they are likely to face questions themselves, like these:

  • Would you keep troops in Syria?
  • How would you negotiate with President Recep Erdogan, given that Turkey is a NATO ally?
  • How do you prevent Russia and Iran from filling the vacuum?
  • Now that this decision has been made, what would be your next move?

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in particular are worth watching on this front, since they have both penned essays and pushed for the end of "forever wars."

What to watch for in the fourth Democratic debate


Warren will step on the debate stage Tuesday night for the first time a front-runner, which could make her the target of attacks by the other contenders, CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak notes. In a CBS News poll released this morning, Warren leads former Vice President Joe Biden across early-state contests through Super Tuesday, as well as in New Hampshire. 

Warren's previous debate appearances have been generally strong, although she hasn't faced any direct attacks from other candidates to this point. But as Warren has risen in recent weeks, rivals have shown a new willingness to attack the Massachusetts senator. Even her apparent pact with longtime ally Senator Bernie Sanders may be off.

"Elizabeth I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not," Sanders told Jonathan Karl in an ABC News interview. "I am, I believe, the only candidate who's going to say to the ruling class of this country: the corporate elite, enough, enough with your greed and with your corruption."

That same CBS News poll showed health care to be the top issue for voters in early-contest states when deciding who they'll vote for. Rival campaigns say they expect Warren's positions—and lack of clarity on whether taxes will go up on middle-class voters to pay for "Medicare for All" — to come under attack on the stage Tuesday. None would disclose their planned points of attack, but some candidates have begun to indicate how they are trying to distinguish themselves from Warren.

For example, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been running ads titled "Affordability," "Choice," and "Medicare for All Who Want It" in New Hampshire.

"Where I part ways with Senator Warren and Senator Sanders is, I think the way to do it is – I call it Medicare for All Who Want It," Buttigieg said last month in Austin.

On "Real Time with Bill Maher" Friday, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was more direct.

"If someone is looking to kick 140 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years, then I'm not your candidate," she said in response to a question about whether Warren is too far left to win a general election.

Those are attacks that could be leveled as easily at Sanders as at Warren. But unlike Sanders, the greatest risk for Warren may be that she has to directly address Medicare for All. While Sanders has conceded he would raise middle class taxes to pay for the program, Warren has so far avoided directly acknowledging that implementing Medicare for All would result in a tax hike on the middle class. When asked, she usually says that costs overall would go down for American families.

Longtime Warren ally Harry Reid questioned Warren's loyalty to Medicare for All in an interview with David Axelrod on CNN Saturday.

"You give her some time. I think that she's not in love with that. You'll wait and see how that all turns out," Reid said.

Warren has been consistent in her general support of Sanders' Medicare for All bill, which doesn't include a full plan to fund the program. No candidate has released a full funding plan for Medicare for All, but the question about middle-class taxes is almost certain to come up in the debate.

She will have to walk a tightrope on the issue in the debate. She came under fire from the far left after she called Medicare for All a "framework" in New Hampshire last month. And the competition to her right has already laid the groundwork for an attack accusing her of wanting to take away personal choice in health care.

Watch: What will Warren say about on Medicare for All? Will she depart from Sanders on this, and will she address its costs for middle-class families?  


Since the last debate, Biden, to his dismay, landed a starring role in the political drama of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson notes. While he'll likely continue to aim to pitch his more moderate plans as more realistic than those of his Democratic rivals, it is nearly certain he'll be asked about the central narrative of what Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate — Hunter Biden's position with Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, which he accepted while his father was running U.S. policy in Ukraine and trying to root out corruption. 

For the past 22 days, Biden has responded to Mr. Trump's unproven claims of Biden family corruption by declaring they have no merit because there is "zero" evidence of wrongdoing. But late on Sunday in Altoona, Iowa, Biden told reporters that if he wins the presidency, his family members will not work in foreign companies. This change comes after his son, Hunter, released a statement through his lawyer earlier Sunday morning stating that if his father wins the White House he would stop working for foreign companies. 

Biden told reporters that this was Hunter Biden's decision alone. Asked by CBS News why Hunter could not continue in the role if there was no conflict of interest, Biden stood by his son. "He could," he said in part.

This answers a question many of his Democratic rivals have been asked regarding whether or not they would allow their vice president's family members to serve within foreign companies. Most of his rivals defended the Bidens (Sen. Kamala Harris declared: "Leave Joe Biden alone!"), while others drew a contrast with him on this point. 

Watch: Will the Bidens' statements today fend off potential criticism from other candidates on stage?   

Or will Biden pivot to the retorts he has relied upon throughout this episode? He has focused lately on what he views as the offenses which seem like impeachable offenses by President Trump. Last week Biden became the 19th of 19 Democratic candidates to endorse the House impeachment inquiry, decrying the president for "shooting holes in the Constitution" and blocking congressional oversight. He also highlighted the president's  actions as further evidence for what he labels the "most corrupt" administration in history. He has even begun using the episode as fodder to mock the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as "a man of great integrity" and his two now-arrested associates as Mr. Trump's top global ambassadors.

He is also using the president's campaign against him as evidence that he has the best chance in the field to beat Mr. Trump in 2020, or at least as proof that the president considers Biden to be his toughest competition. The newest rallying cry from Biden is that he can beat Trump "like a drum," but on stage Tuesday night, will his rivals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren who is now neck and neck with him in the most recent polls allow him to continue to claim the high-ground of electability?


Since Sanders suffered a heart attack almost two weeks ago, he has been absent from the campaign trail, making this debate his grand return. Perhaps some voters who were mulling Sanders over may see the health setback as a reason to support another candidate. 

Sanders has stalled in recent polls —he's at 17% in Sunday's CBS News poll, behind Biden and Warren — but he has always relished the underdog role, reports CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte.

It also remains to be seen whether he'll continue not to attack Warren, now the front-runner whom he has so far declined to criticize on stage. 

Watch: Can Sanders, the oldest candidate running, convince Democratic voters that his heart attack won't slow him down? Will he go on the attack against ally Warren, who has been pulling ahead of the pack? 


The last debate for Klobuchar became the mise en scène of her newest campaign ad

"If you feel stuck in the middle of the extremes of our politics and you are tired of the noise, you've got a home with me," Klobuchar says, highlighting her debate pitch in the ad. CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson points out that the Minnesota senator benefitted from the limited number of candidates on stage last month, since there were fewer moderates on stage pushing back on the progressive policies advocated by some of the top-polling candidates. 

Watch: At least one Iowa poll indicates Klobuchar's debate performance may have contributed to her small positive bump. But now with more candidates on stage, will Klobuchar find it too hard to make herself heard from the wings of the stage? 


Booker said in a gaggle last week that his preparation for Tuesday's debate is "similar" to his approach for the last debate, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. The New Jersey senator told reporters, "So, everything I'm going to do up there is to try to show people my heart, what my spirit's about, the ideas I have."

He has made it onto the stage for the previous three debates and has turned in solid performances, but hasn't had a breakout moment so far. After reaching a fundraising goal at the end of the third quarter, Booker went on an RV tour in Iowa, where he drew enthusiastic crowds.

Watch: With more candidates on the debate stage than the previous debates, will Booker be able to break out of the pack and build some momentum? 


Harris heads into Tuesday's debate amid a downtick in recent polls, CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry notes. The California senator has struggled to gain the momentum that she once had after her strong performance in the first Democratic debate. 

Harris spent the weekend hosting a block party in Iowa and has been capitalizing on the impeachment news surrounding President Trump. However, she has so far not been successful in presenting her policy proposals in a clear and concise package, as her fellow Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have. 

Watch: How will Harris attempt to stand out on a crowded stage while keeping her more moderate positions?


During the last debate, which was in his home state of Texas, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke had arguably his strongest debate performance yet. In a response on whether or not he would support a mandatory gun buyback program for assault weapons, O'Rourke replied, "Hell yes," and has since been championing stricter gun control measures on the campaign trail. 

It's a stance that has put him at odds with another Democratic candidate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, notes Perry. The two candidates have been trading jabs with each other in the weeks since the last debate. It's significant because since entering the race, O'Rourke had refused to fight with fellow Democrats and instead focused his line of attack on President Trump. In the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, O'Rourke has seen a slight improvement in the poll, coming in at 4% nationally. 

Watch: Will O'Rourke continue to attack Buttigieg on the national stage or play it safe and not engage in the intra-party fighting?


The former housing and urban development secretary had one of the biggest moments of the last debate with his exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden on healthcare that seemed to many to be a slap at his age — "are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago," he prodded Biden — but the moment did not translate into a bump in his poll numbers, Perry points out. Castro continues to release detailed policy proposals, but hasn't been gaining the same traction that Senator Elizabeth Warren has been receiving for her proposals.  With time running out for Castro to make the November debate, Tuesday's debate could be a make-or-break moment for his campaign.  Castro has spent the last few days in San Antonio preparing for the debate. 

Watch: Will Castro target Biden again in a bid to stand out on the stage?


After the third Democratic debate in September, Buttigieg released his "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan, which includes a public option and does not eliminate private insurance plans. His approach contrasts with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who advocate for Medicare for All, a single-payer health care plan. Buttigieg has been making this distinction frequently in his stump speeches on the trail and in digital advertisement campaigns, notes Turman.

Asked in a gaggle in Nevada earlier this month about the health care debate in the Democratic party, Buttigieg said, "I just have an honest respectful disagreement with folks like Senator Warren who believe that we should throw a switch and kick everybody off their private plans."

Watch: Will Buttigieg continue to pitch himself as the electable alternative, drawing distinctions with the progressive Medicare for All plans espoused by Warren and Sanders?


At the third debate, Andrew Yang managed to raise over a million dollars in just a few days after announcing a freedom dividend pilot program, reports CBS News associate producer Ben Mitchell. Over the weekend, Yang teased another big debate announcement, which is likely to be an attempt to help generate more earned media coverage while impeachment continues to chew up the minutes on every news program. Yang had a big third quarter for fundraising, but his poll numbers in the early states have stagnated. 

Watch: The debate is a great opportunity to juice those numbers a bit (like Kamala Harris did over the Summer).


Steyer will make his debut on the debate stage Tuesday. The billionaire, who has tried to make a name for himself over the past few years with efforts to impeach President Donald Trump and support for progressive candidates, is largely untested in a debate environment. But with strong advertising efforts in early contest states, he's already qualified for the November stage. Asked Thursday how he's preparing for his first debate, he joked that he was taking questions from reporters, reports Hudak.

WATCH: How will Tom Steyer present himself to the American people in his first-ever presidential debate appearance?


Gabbard announced on Twitter a couple days ago that she is "seriously considering" boycotting the Democratic debate this coming Tuesday. Gabbard, who qualified for the October debate but did not qualify for the Democratic debate in September, accused the Democratic National Committee and the corporate media of "rigging" the primary election, says Turman. If she declines to debate, she would be the only person to qualify for the debate who does not appear onstage Tuesday.

The Hawaii congresswoman has also criticized the DNC's transparency in regards to the polls used to qualify for the debates leading up to the third Democratic debate. When voters last saw Gabbard on the debate stage in July, she made a splash by attacking Harris' record as a prosecutor in California.

Watch: Will she participate in the debate? And if she does participate, will she criticize another one of her opponents?

CBS News Battleground Tracker Poll: Warren extends lead across early states, leads in New Hampshire and draws even with Biden in Iowa

Early-state Democratic voters say President Trump's allegations against Joe Biden have not affected their views of Biden and largely think they aren't true. Even so, it's Elizabeth Warren who continues to draw support from Democrats. She has extended the aggregate lead she had in this poll last month across the 18 early primary and caucus states. 

As for individual states, she has increased her lead over the pack in New Hampshire and pulled even with Biden in Iowa. And Warren leads in our delegate model over Biden, too, demonstrating that she's competitive in many regions.

Read more about the latest CBS News poll here.

Partisans dig in on impeachment, but majority of Americans say Trump administration should cooperate with inquiry

While a majority of Americans (63%) say the Trump administration should cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, most Republicans disagree and feel the administration should not, as the partisan divide has hardened on impeachment matters in the last two weeks. Some 37% of Americans say the administration should not cooperate, according to a new CBS News poll.

Louisiana heads into November runoff in race for governor between John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone

The next governor for Louisiana will have to be decided in November, with incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards falling shy of the 50% needed to win Saturday's "jungle" primary outright, according to The Associated Press. After being neck-and-neck for the last push of the race, businessman Eddie Rispone beat out U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham for the Republican spot in the runoff and secured the second-most amount of votes with about 28%of the vote, CBS News Political Unit broacast associate Aaron Navarro notes.

Rispone was able to escape a close and brutal primary with Abraham, where the two consistently clashed with each other on the debate stage and through television ads. Prior to Saturday, he was either tied or leading Abraham by single digits in the polls.

Read more about the election here.


10/14 – Bennet in IA, Sestak in NH
10/15 – Biden in OH, Booker in OH, Buttigieg in OH, Castro in OH, Gabbard in OH, Harris in OH, Klobuchar in OH, Beto in OH, Sanders in OH, Sestak in OH, Steyer in OH, Warren in OH, Yang in OH

10/16 – Biden in OH, Buttigieg in IA, Harris in IA, Sestak in NH

10/17 – Beto in OH, Biden in DC, Harris in IA, Warren in DC, Sestak in NH, Trump in TX
10/18 – Harris in IA, Klobuchar in IA, Sestak in NH, Warren in VA
10/19 – Biden in NY & CT, Harris in SC, Klobuchar in IA, Sanders in NY, Sestak in NH
10/20 – Biden in NY & CT, Harris in SC, Klobuchar in IA, Sestak in NH, Warren in IA

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