We’ll Live-Blog CNN’s Democratic Debate Stage Lottery Here Tonight at 8 p.m. ET

July 18, 2019

Wolf Blitzer to EmCee the Event Live on Anderson Cooper’s 360 Show

There Will Be Three Drawings for the Three Tiers of Candidates to Randomly Determine the July 30 & July 31 Debate Stage Lineups

By Al Giordano

CNN’s going to drag this event out over an hour and I’m glad it’s being done live. It will hush the bad faith conspiracy theories that the candidate pairings could have been somehow “rigged.” The new tweak to the rules selects the assignments in three drawings – not two as occurred for the first debates – to make sure that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each have to share a stage with one of those others in the top tier. (At the first debates Biden, Harris and Sanders collided on the same night while Warren’s debate stage was a virtual honeymoon for her.) Any two of those possible combinations would be interesting, but some more than others.

In the first drawing cards with the names of these candidates who enjoy the least support so far will be drawn, one at a time, alternated with cards for the July 30 or July 31 debates: Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland US Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Ohio US Rep. Tim Ryan and author Marianne Williamson.

Each of these candidates are in danger of being filtered out of the September debate if their support in polls and grassroots fundraising doesn’t improve markedly in August. Five of them will be assigned by the luck of the draw to one night’s debate stage, five to the other, before it is known which major card players will be on each of those stages. For many of them July 30 and 31 will be the last time we see them.

In other words, they’re desperate. Which frontrunners end up on the same stage with them will determine a lot (if you’re Kirsten Gillibrand you’d rather end up with Joe Biden and/or Bernie Sanders for a potential “take down moment” than on a stage with both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, a combo which has a 16.7 percent chance of happening as does every other of six potential frontrunner combinations over the two nights).

Somewhere in the middle of the hour – presumably after the talking heads offer some speculative analysis (as we will here, only better and more fun!) – CNN will do the second drawing using the same process for these six mid-tier candidates: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas US Rep. Beto O’Rourke and entrepeneur Andrew Yang.

Three of these will be randomly selected to go to each stage using the same process as was used for the first group.

If you’re Joe Biden, you don’t want to end up on the same stage with either Gillibrand or Cory Booker, each with their backs against the wall for whom Uncle Joe is an easy target. Booker could finish the fight that Kamala Harris started with Biden on issues of racism and segregation. Gillibrand could go after Biden or Sanders – or both – on the gender equality and harassment issues where she has made her biggest mark in the Senate, an area in which both men are vulnerable but so far have survived other critiques on that front.

Another desperado in this lineup is Beto O’Rourke, whose first debate did not go well for him after Julian Castro’s gut punch (it didn’t do much for Castro’s poll numbers but it sure helped Castro’s fundraising – and with it his chances of surviving to the third debate round – but it did stop O’Rourke’s momentum cold). O’Rourke, though, is crafty and on a stage with either Biden or Sanders could turn one or the other into his foil in a play to regain relevancy.

Amy Klobuchar and Steve Bullock (the Montana governor is qualifying for the first time after Eric Swalwell dropped out) also have considerable debate skills and have little to lose and everything to gain from picking a weak zebra to cull from the herd. In the law of the jungle, that typically one of the old ones.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, will benefit from going after Harris or Warren. They’re the two most deadly and skilled debaters on stage and and each of them will cut off your legs at the knees, and do it with a smile, if you try it. Likewise if they end up on the same stage look for a love fest full of sisterhood and solidarity. There’s no upside for either in fighting with each other – at least not yet until it gets down to the two of them.

Finally, will anyone go after Pete Buttigieg who leads the field in fundraising? His hometown police racism story and the Silicon Valley money that has filled his campaign coffers make him an easy target. At the same time, as the son of a Marxist college professor, he’d probably be able to turn any attack from Bernie Sanders to his advantage because he understands the white academic ideological pond that Sanders and cohort swim in. On the other hand, a fight with Cory Booker is something Mayor Pete, who reminds us all the time he is a religious man, probably prays each night will not happen.

And the final draw will have just four names: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Two will go to each stage.

I have my own thoughts about who each in the top tier would prefer to be paired with, and I’ll share them tonight in this space during the event (hint: Keep refreshing this page to see the updates). I’ll give subscribers – who if logged-in to Organize & Win during the event will be able to comment and read each other’s comments in the backstage pass area here – a chance to share your views first. You’re a savvy group and you often help me to widen my own perspective, which is greatly appreciated.

My own running commentary will mostly be available to the greater public to follow but as with the first debates I may jump into the backstage comments section from time to time to share a though only with subscribers. You know always save the best for you!

See you here at 8 p.m. ET for the next chapter of the most real of all reality shows: The one with consequences not just for the contestants but for everyone in the US – and on earth.

8:05 p.m. ET: They’re really going to stretch this thing out. A lot of tap dancing to fill an hour with three lottery picks! David Axelrod is among the panelists.

8:08 p.m. ET: John King says Biden has the most to lose here. I’d say he’s not the only one! But one thing I really like: Tom Perez has made sure that this process creates a nominee that has already won a season of Reality TV in order to take on the last guy who had that! This is all a contest for who gets to tell Trump, “You’re fired!”

8:15 p.m. ET: Here comes the first round draw for the lower tier. Bill de Blasio gets in Wednesday July 31. Next is Michael Bennett who also gets Night Two. Steve Bullock, the newcomer, who gets a July 30 first night berth. Tulsi Gabbard gets into the second night. Tim Ryan gets Night One. John Hickenlooper gets Night One (the two Coloradans will be on different stages). John Delaney pulls Night One. Kirsten Gillibrand gets Night Two! Marianne Williamson gets Night One. Jay Inslee gets Night Two.

8:18 p.m. ET: Recap: Tuesday July 30 stage: Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney and Marianne Williamson. Okay, so that’s the dial tone undercard debate so far! Night Two on July 31 is more interesting: Bill de Blasio, Michael Bennett, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee.

8:21 p.m. ET: Whether these assignments are a win or loss for this lower tier group depends on who draws the high tier cards in each respective stage. Gillibrand’s fate has the most on the line there. She’s praying, “Give me Bernie or Biden or both please!”

8:23 p.m. ET: Middle tier draw is nigh. It already feels like a casino. Cory Booker draws Night Two. Amy Klobuchar, Night One. Andrew Yang gets second night stage. Beto O’Rourke is Night One. Julian Castro pulls Night Two (no more clashes between those two this round). Buttigieg also pulls a Night One card.

8: 26 p.m. ET: To recap: Night One: Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Buttigieg go with the moderates from the lower tier. Booker, Castro and Yang get Night Two.

8:28 p.m. ET: Oh god, if Bernie and Elizabeth draw the debate card with the moderates on Night One, it’s war!

8:36 p.m. ET: There is no data with which to predict who draws what card here in the last round but all of them must want to be there Night Two at this point. Except for the downside that de Blasio and Gabbard are the most interrupting of the entire crew and will likely generate a lot of sound and fury and distraction signifying nothing. Still, a liberal would rather not go to the moderate’s ball – although one could have some fun there as the keeper of the flame as Ted Kennedy might have termed it.

8:37 p.m. ET: My own preference would be for Biden and Bernie to go to Night Two and Harris and Warren to tag team the moderates on Night One. That would be the long distance runner position for both.

8:38 p.m ET: Last round. ANTE UP! (I gave up my weekly poker night for this live blog.)

8:40 p.m. ET: Warren draws Night One. Harris draws Night Two! Biden draws Night Two! And so it’s Bernie-Elizabeth and the moderates on night one. Hoo boy. And a Kamala-Joe rematch on night two. These will be fun.

8:42 p.m. ET: This is a nightmare for Joe Biden and good for Kamala Harris. Booker and Gillibrand will both be gunning for him. Kamala will be able to ignore him this round.

8:44 p.m. ET: To recap: Night One is Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Bullock, Williamson, Hickenlooper, Delaney, Ryan. Night Two is Biden, Harris, Booker, Castro, Yang, Gillibrand, Gabbard, de Blasio, Inslee and Bennett.

8:49 p.m. ET: Beto O’Rourke could go after Bernie Sanders for his vote against Ted Kennedy’s immigration reform bill. Hmmmmm.

8:50 p.m. ET: That last observation began with “which of the players in the all white people debate has a clue about POC issues?” Warren and O’Rourke kind of have the market cornered in the Night One lineup. They would both do well to drag the others onto that turf.

8:57 p.m. ET: The more I look at this lineup for Night Two I’m just thinking, poor Joe. This is his nightmare roster. Van Jones: “Biden is like the piñata.” That’s funny because it’s true.

9:07 p.m. ET: I thought, by the way, that the CNN crew did a good job with this. I was worried they would be talking about Trump and his mob’s outburst last night and the Democratic candidates would be competing for airtime. But the Democratic candidates proved interesting and filled with enough intrigue to for one brief shining hour make us all forget about the nastiness out there, and let us hope for spell. That’s really important.

9:23 p.m. ET: Thanks for the crew backstage who provided such great running commentary alongside my own! Y’all are the best. See you here on the 30th and 31st!

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