What’s in Store For Tonight’s Democratic Debate

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

From her campaign kickoff onward, Hillary Clinton’s inevitability has been wearing thin. With Bernie Sanders on her left, and Joe Biden on the cusp of getting in, and three others hoping she falters.

A Fox News national poll out today has Clinton at 45 percent, Sanders at 25, Biden, who’s not a candidate, at 19, Martin O’Malley at 1 percent, and Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee barely registering.

We asked the state Democratic Chairman and two other politicos if tonight’s debate is important.

“I think it’s more important to the other candidates, particularly Governor O’Malley. I think this is a chance for the country to get to know him, as well as Senator Sanders. Obviously I’m confident that Secretary Clinton is extremely prepared and I believe she will be on the offensive. I personally don’t think they’re going to attack her,” said John Currie.

“The first debate is always important. It allows people to lay down their markers and define who they are before somebody else does it. But it’s going to be forgotten three weeks after it’s over,” said journalist Nick Acocella.

“I think it’s very important for Hillary Clinton to be able to distinguish herself as being presidential, to get away from a lot of the negative e-mailgate, Benghazi that’s been talked about a lot. It’s also important for the four other candidates to try to distinguish themselves, which they’ve not been able to do to this point,” said operative Adam Silverstein.

As state Chairman, John Currie is neutral, but as Passaic County chairman he’s all for Clinton.

“She’s a much warmer person than people give her credit for. I think she still needs to work on the trust issue with the public. I trust her. I think she will make an excellent president,” he said.

“She’s a seasoned veteran at this stuff. She’s going to be careful. She’s not going to make any mistakes,” Acocella said.

Acocella doubts the others will attack Clinton.

“They will not attack her because it doesn’t do them any good. You’re going to look like you’re picking on the front-runner You’re going to look as if you’re picking on a woman,” he said.

Silverstein expects attacks.

“I think that Sen. Webb and Gov. O’Malley have been frustrated by the fact they’ve been unable to get traction. They’re going to use this as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the electorate. I think they’re going to be a little nastier than people are expecting,” Silverstein said.

And he says if Clinton stumbles…

“I do believe Joe Biden will use this as an opportunity to say, ‘I need to get into the race.’ If she’s very strong and she gets a bounce out of tonight, he may continue to question his decision. But if she’s weak and there’s further erosion of her poll numbers, Joe Biden may get into the race because of what happens tonight,” Silverstein said.

Debates are about theatrics and substance, and they do matter. Whether tonight makes any lasting difference among the Democrats, we’ll find out soon.