How High Are the Stakes Tonight for Each Democratic Candidate?

Illustration: Rafi Schwartz, photos: Paul Sancya (AP)

The third Democratic primary debate, live tonight on ABC News and Univision, will be the first time all of the major candidates have been together on one stage, and also Beto O’Rourke made it in. Many, many pundits are asking: How high are the stakes tonight? Oh ho ho boy let me tell you. They are HIGH. Astronomically high.

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Here’s how, high, specifically, the stakes are, for each person who’s about to go up on that stage. Whoo! Here we go!

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Oh MAN are the stakes high for Bernie tonight. He’s polling behind Biden and Warren in some national polls, and if he doesn’t do well tonight, he’s likely to fall even more behind. If he doesn’t “win”... man... he might have to move back to Vermont (or as I like to call it... RUSSIA... haha) and be just a SENATOR again. That would suck for him!! And also for the country because we’d lose our best shot at getting a functioning healthcare system! Drat!

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Woah woah woah! The stakes for Mayor Pete, I gotta say, could NOT be higher. I mean frick, you guys, he’s had a gosh-darn good run! This is his chance to really break out, after all the other chances he’s had to break out didn’t quite land. The other week, I was in upstate New York and I saw SEVERAL Mayor Pete lawn signs, so I’m going to make a little prediction here and say that he’s in the prime spot for a shakeup! Pretty high stakes stuff if you ask me.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Wow. One thing you can’t just release a detailed, substantive plan for? The twists and turns of a HIGH STAKES debate. Warren is battling for second place behind Biden in most polls, but even striking at the top in some polls (the good ones). This was pretty much the same situation going into the last debate, but as you know, this debate is the NEXT debate, which means the stakes are even higher.

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Will she look to again form an alliance with the senator from Vermont—whose ideas and platform she most closely mimics—in order to hit Biden from both sides? Or will she try to draw some distinctions between her and someone who ideally would be her closest political ally in the name of WINNING THIS DEBATE? Who knows! Time will tell (specifically, 8:00 p.m. Eastern is the Time that will Tell).

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Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang, Andrew Yang. What is there to say? Well for one, the stakes for him tonight are EXTREMELY high. Good thing he’s got something special up his sleeve!

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Aw, SCRAPS. Who knows what this maverick will do next?? Crowdsurf onto stage? Rip a vape? Do a kickflip then stare Beto O’Rourke down till he cries? Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: It’s gonna raise the stakes of tonight’s debate by a whole heck of a lot.

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Sen. Cory Booker

Oh man. For Cory Booker, I feel pretty comfortable saying that the stakes could not be higher. Booker’s been trailing in the polls and barely making the stage for past debates. Tonight the stakes for him are high, high, high, baby, as he looks to give an answer that the American people will remember—perhaps even allowing him to crack three percent in the polls.

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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Well here we go. The Big Beto. The stakes? High. How will he counter Yang? Perhaps with a kickin’ drum solo. Anything could happen in the high stakes world of Democratic debates. O’Rourke’s campaign has been somewhat reinvigorated in recent weeks, as close-to-home tragedies have allowed him to speak strongly about gun control and recapture some of the fire of his 2018 Senate campaign. Will that transfer to a big payoff, just when the stakes are also quite big?

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Sen. Kamala Harris

Oh KAMALA? The stakes for her are high for SURE. Huge debate for her. Extremely high stakes stuff, here.

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Harris faces the task of trying to make another splash by punching up—possibly at Biden again, or by setting her sights on Warren or Sanders—to get herself back into the frontrunner mix. Will she do it? Boy, I don’t know.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar

The stakes for Amy Klobuchar are so high tonight, it’s a wonder she’s even going to make it on stage! No, really, how is she still on this stage?

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Julián Castro

OK guys, the stakes for Castro—I don’t want to oversell this—are very high. Actually. He’s another one of the bottom-tier candidates hanging in by a thread, but one that actually has some decent policy ideas and could be angling for a VP or Cabinet spot. Does he play it aggressive and go after another candidate? Does he try to make a name for himself any other way? We will see, tonight, as the stakes can only get higher.

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Former VP Joe Biden

Honestly, the stakes for Biden aren’t really that high. He kinda just has to show up and make it off stage without noticeably bleeding or passing out. As long as he strings together one sentence out of every three, his camp will probably call it a win, and blame negative feedback on the media.

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We’ll see you all tonight, when I’ll be chugging White Claw. And then again, in October, when the stakes... get even higher still.

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About the author

Jack Crosbie

Contributing Writer, Splinter