] Qualifying for the first democratic presidential debate was the easy part. Now comes the challenge to prepare it.
With the first debate in Miami now less than a month away, at least half a dozen major candidates have begun to block time or ease their schedules to prepare.
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In phone calls and conference rooms, advisers whip up potential issues. Candidates practice tightening their responses with knowledge of the seven to ten minutes of total speaking time they expect to be awarded. And they look at clips of the 2016 Republican President's primary debates to get acquainted with the dynamics of the debates on a crowded deer.
Everything is under the expectation that the first debate will represent the most significant milestone in the campaign so far, make-or-break event that is likely to lead to the first winnowing of the crowded 23 primary candidates.
For candidates who are accustomed to much more control over their circumstances, the behavior turns out to be a disturbing experience.
"This is not a scenario that any of them have been in," said Philippe Reines, a long-standing Hillary Clinton confidant who played the role of candidate Donald Trump in Clinton's debate preparations in 2016. "It's almost like a particle accelerator … It'll be a group dynamic that you can't really control."
Few candidates have debated 9 other rivals before. None of the participants know yet whether they will appear June 26 or June 27 – as many as 20 candidates will split over two consecutive nights – or even who they will discuss. These dynamics combine to create a deep sense of insecurity and frustration around an evening that is likely to be marked by the largest national audience yet of the campaign.
A campaign administrator for a top-tier campaign resembled the unknowns surrounding the debate into a "black box." One other campaign advisor said: "It certainly hurts how to prepare a debate, especially as it is your first introduction at national level … It is difficult when there is a great pressure to meet the thresholds and we may not have more than two weeks to know who we will be on stage with. "
The campaigns are planning to attend a conference calling on Thursday with representatives of the Democratic National Committees, where issues of debate logistics and format are expected to be treated.
But the candidates are unlikely to know which evening they will appear until about. Two weeks before the debate – and some candidates will continue to sweat if they want to qualify at all.
In interviews with about a dozen campaigns, advisers said they began to intensify their preparations. Several officials said they would hold campaigns with more people who act as proxy for rival candidates, but perhaps not with a complete complement of nine players representing nine candidates. Others try to predict from which opponents they might expect crossfire.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris is among those who recently began to focus on debate preparation. An aid to Sen. Elizabeth Warren told POLITICO that while it is still too early to intensively strategize for the debate, it is also a challenge "when we do not know who we will be on the stage with until a few days out" and said it would be "hard to have a moment "with 10 people competing for odor.
Another campaign highlighted the difficulty of not knowing who would otherwise share the stage and say employees who would otherwise study old debates of potential competitors to "get into their heads" instead present a composition of more challengers in practice sessions.
"We are preparing for a cross section, there are many candidates who have similar positions on the major issues we know how many of our colleagues come from," a California Rep. Eric Swalwell said.
For lesser-known candidates like Swalwell, the debates present an opportunity to get a much needed step in the primary.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has hired a debate director, Geoff Potter, and he and his advisers have made the first call on how to approach the first debate. Unlike a congressional, gubernatorial, or American Senate debate – where the resulting media coverage may be more significant than the actual debate – millions of viewers are expected to watch next month, reinforcing the importance of a live performance.
In a recent call among Insle's advisors on the upcoming debates, formerly Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's criticism of President Donald Trump as "chaos candidate" in 2016 came up as an example of how one-liners can fall flat. Several other candidates have made similar calculations, with an advisor to a lower graduate who says, "You can't be artificial about this … Votes see it through when candidates deliver a zinger."
John Delaney, the former Maryland Congressman has watched recordings of both the Democratic and Republican primary debates in 2016. His communications director, Will McDonald, noted that "for most people, this will be the first or second time they are in this competition. "
Advisers for campaigns grouped at the bottom of polls said some of their focus over the coming weeks will navigate where lesser-known candidates can distinguish themselves without coming across as a combatant.
Advisers for multiple candidates suggested that they prepare to draw contrasts in the debate – but more likely with the rest of the democratic field as a whole, not a particular candidate.
"Maybe you have three e minutes in a debate, four minutes, what are you going to do? Want to try to swing to the fences, the way [Marco] Rubio went after Trump? Or do you want to attack someone else?" Stuart asked Stevens, the top strategist for Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. "It's just an impossible situation … Lincoln-Douglas is debating, it wasn't Lincoln, Douglas, Johnson, Smith, Harris, Fitzgerald," Reilly. It was Lincoln-Douglas. "
Sorry the format, Stevens said the debate did not resemble a debate as much as a "multi-candidate press conference."
"It's wild," he said.
A rival everyone is preparing for – and who will not come on stage – is Trump. He is expected to broadly tweet his reactions to the debates as they unfold, and democratic strategists said it is possible, the moderators of the debate will ask some questions based on his tweets. For Democrats who have had the political advantage of provoking the President in the past, the opportunity to engage in real time is broadly regarded as a potential blessing.
But several candidates are also prepared to defend against criticism of their records could potentially come from other candidates – but more likely to believe their advisors in the form of challenging calls from the moderators of the debate, for which reason, several campaigns on the dissemination of television cities pointed to their most significant practice for the first debate.
" I think preparing for a debate is like preparing a town hall, "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told POLITICO recently." You just want to be able to articulate what you are for in a way that is concise , which is harder for me and directly. "
Asked if she had been drilled to give shorter responses from her staff, she said" Not yet. "But she added:" But I have practiced it in my first town hall with MSNBC because each pau see we had, the producer would say: "OK, it was good answers, but shorter, shorter and shorter. "I was like," OK, OK, OK! "So I think of my second town hall, CNN, I think if you saw that, you would see the answers were shorter. So I am getting better."
Several top-level candidates advised that they hoping to be on stage with former Vice President Joe Biden or later Bernie Sanders – the two top qualifying candidates – either to guarantee them & # 39; I get the most eyes or to convey an instant contrast. An advisor to another graduate candidate welcomed the idea of being on stage with Biden: "I can offer you the younger alternative to what you are looking at right now."
"I want to be next to Joe Biden so the country can Google & # 39; who is the Asian man next to Joe Biden & # 39; and then they will discover Andrew Yang," said the little known entrepreneur Andrew Yang. "I think it's ideal. I've done the math and I have about 8 percent chance of standing next to Joe Biden. "
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Told journalists in New Hampshire recently:" It will be very interesting because you want so many people and it is the happiness of luck, what evening you should be, who you going to stand next door – maybe it will be really loud, don't know. "
The front runners feel pressured in a way other than those who are still trying to introduce a national audience. With so much attention in their age, Sanders and Biden cannot have a Rick Perry-like forgetful moment. Adults in the room And Warren's reputation as a policy wonk means she will have added expectations to drive the discussion or at least have well-thought-out answers to most questions.
a major challenge from its competitors in the debate, but advisers to many of his rivals remain cautious in attacking him too sharply, even though a competitor could beat Biden in the debate, it is unclear in a multi-candidate field who would benefit.
" In 2016, if Bernie attacked Hillary and landed a blow, it is possible that they came to Bernie, "Reines said." And if Hillary landed a blow on Bernie, people came to her. Now you have a situation where Liz Warren can take a shot at Bernie Sanders because they are kind of fighting for the same pool, and a voter says, "I don't like Bernie's answer, but I don't like the way Warren asked it so I have to take a look at Kamala. "
He said," You have a little bit of Whac-A-Mole situation and it's going to play out on stage. "
Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report