Democratic debates live updates: Candidates for 2020 Democrats face off in presidential primary debate in Atlanta today


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Ten Democrats will be taking the stage Wednesday night for the fifth presidential debate, which will take place in Atlanta. It will be co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

The debate comes less than 100 days from the first contest of the Democratic primary season, the Iowa caucuses.

Watch CBSNews.com and CBSN for updates and analysis all day and all night ahead of this pivotal debate.

Four candidates call on Comcast to probe NBC/MSNBC

Two days before the fifth Democratic primary debate, hosted by MSNBC, four Democratic presidential hopefuls called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to demand Comcast, MSNBC’s parent company, commit to conducting an independent investigation into the company’s “toxic culture” that allowed the sexual harassment and abuse of staffers.

Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez on Tuesday ramping up the pressure on the party to reiterate its support for victims of sexual misconduct.

“We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors,” the 2020 hopefuls wrote.

Despite the letter, Booker, Harris, Sanders and Warren will all take the stage Wednesday night.

Melissa Quinn

Trump beats four Democratic frontrunners in new Wisconsin poll

In a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday, President Trump held a small lead over each of the leading four candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in head-to-head general election matchups.

Wisconsin voters said they would prefer Mr. Trump over former Vice President Joe Biden 47% to 44%, and the president led Senator Bernie Sanders 48% to 45%.

In a head-to-head race, 48% of Wisconsin voters said they would prefer Mr. Trump over Senator Elizabeth Warren, who 43% said they would back. The president topped South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg by the widest margin, with 47% of those polled saying they would support Mr. Trump in a general election matchup and 39% backing Buttigieg.

The poll is a positive shift for the president, who was trailing Biden, Sanders, and Warren in last month’s survey from Marquette.

Mr. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by nearly 23,000 votes, and the state is key in the 2020 general election. Democrats have selected Milwaukee as the site of the Democratic National Convention in July.

The Marquette poll of 801 Wisconsin voters was conducted Nov. 13-17, with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points.

Melissa Quinn

Klobuchar has visited the most Iowa counties

There are 99 counties in Iowa, and the 10 candidates on stage have held 735 events in 73 of those counties. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who hails from neighboring Minnesota, has visited the most counties in Iowa, having visited 55 of the 99 counties. Another Midwestern, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has visited 37, with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren visiting 36 each.

CBS News campaign reporters Musadiq Bidar and Adam Brewster broke down all the visits. The 17 candidates still in the race have held 1,252 campaign events in 86 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

In the 2016 election, Republican Senator Ted Cruz visited all 99 counties — hitting the last county on the day of the caucus. Cruz was victorious in the 2016 Iowa caucus.

Foreign policy may play big role in debate

Amid a trade war with China, unrest in Hong Kong and an impeachment inquiry circling U.S. policy toward Russia and Ukraine, foreign policy may play a bigger role than prior debates.

Aides to Joe Biden, who in addition to being vice president also served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, say a new focus on foreign policy should work to his advantage. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, has also emphasized foreign policy issues in her campaign, although her 2015 meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has been widely criticized.

Harris releases new ad describing her as the “anti-Trump

Harris released a new digital campaign ad hours before Democrats take the stage painting her as the “anti-Trump” who can beat the president in a general election match-up.

The 53-second spot juxtaposes Harris’s record as a prosecutor who took down sex predators and shuttered for-profit colleges that deceived Americans against Mr. Trump‘s “Access Hollywood” comments and involvement in the now-defunct Trump University.

“I prosecuted sex predators. Trump is one. I shut down for-profit scam colleges. He ran one. I held big banks accountable. He’s owned by them,” Harris tweeted. “I’m not just prepared to take on Trump, I’m prepared to beat him.”

Harris served as the attorney general of California and the San Francisco district attorney before she was elected to the Senate in 2016. She often touts her background as a prosecutor in her pitch to voters but has been criticized for her record on criminal justice issues.

Melissa Quinn

All eyes will be on Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg in the spotlight ahead of Democratic debate

This is the first debate where 37-year-old Buttigieg is poised to be the focus, given his new top standing in Iowa and a general surge in the early states. He’ll be alongside the other frontrunners — former Vice President Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Don’t be surprised if they call out Buttigieg’s low standing among black and Latino voters — two constituencies needed to win the nomination.

And while polls show Democratic voters are closely watching the impeachment hearings, they want their candidates focus on the issues. And on Wednesday night, they will, especially health care — and how to pay for it — plus the economy and climate change.

Democrats are holding the debate here in Georgia because it’s a state they’d like to win. But it hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Ed O’Keefe

Buttigieg releases tax returns

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg released his tax returns from the first two years he worked at McKinsey and Company, a global business consulting group, ahead of the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Buttigieg, who worked at the company from 2007 to 2010, released his tax returns from the past ten years in April. The tax returns in his latest release includes his first two years when he worked at McKinsey. In 2007, his first year at the company, he made $80,397 and paid $13,954 in taxes. The following year, he earned $122,680 and paid $25,776.

Ahead of the debate, Buttigieg also called on other candidates to disclose their income from their prior work in the private and public sectors.

Jack Turman

​First debate since public impeachment hearings began

Wednesday night marks the first Democratic debate since the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry entered its public phase last week. To what extent Democrats will focus on the inquiry remains to be seen.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he was not part of “some irregular or rogue diplomacy,” and he referred to emails showing that leadership at the State Department, National Security Council and White House had been informed about the announcement of Ukraine investigations sought by Mr. Trump of the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee server and the energy company Burisma, which employed Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden.

Should the House impeach President Trump, half a dozen of the candidates running for president could find themselves sidelined from the campaign trail for much of January in the crucial closing weeks before the earliest voting contests. The subsequent Senate trial requires the presence of all sitting senators, which means that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet would be in Washington after the first of the year, should a Senate trial take place in the new year.

​Newcomers to the race Bloomberg and Patrick won’t be on stage

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who announced a presidential campaign last week, will not be on stage at Wednesday’s debate.

Neither will former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has not entered the race but has filed for the Democratic primaries in Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.

Patrick has admitted that he faces steep odds in his last-minute quest for the Democratic nomination, but could benefit from his tenure as Massachusetts governor, given the state’s proximity to New Hampshire, where the first formal Democratic primary will be held next year.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, could fall back on his enormous personal fortune should he decide to formally enter the race.

Trump and the debate

There’s no word on whether the president will be watching tonight’s Democratic debate, but his campaign will be making his presence known in Atlanta beforehand with an aerial banner reading, “Democrats’ socialism will destroy Atlanta jobs” and a full-page newspaper ad in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

Biden campaign outlines debate points

Debate watchers can anticipate three main tactics from Joe Biden‘s campaign Wednesday night:

  • Make an argument about who has the experience and steady leadership needed to be commander-in-chief;
  • promote the “progressive wins” of the Obama era;
  • and continue to contrast Biden‘s health care approach to that of other rival Democrats.

Senior Biden campaign officials discussed the upcoming debate with reporters on a background call today.

On health care, Biden officials say it’s clear with recent Democratic victories in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana that building on the Affordable Care Act is the way for Democrats to win.

Senior campaign officials frequently mentioned Warren on this point, noting her plan would come out of the checks of the middle class.

Regarding polls that show Biden lagging behind Buttigieg in Iowa, a senior campaign official said, “We are in a very good position.”

— Bo Erickson and Kathryn Watson

How to watch the 5th Democratic debate

Which candidates qualified for the debate?

There will be two fewer candidates on stage than in October because former Housing Secretary Julián Castro failed to qualify this time and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke ended his bid for the White House.

Here are the 10 candidates who have qualified to appear:

  1. Joe Biden, former vice president
  2. Cory Booker, New Jersey senator
  3. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana
  4. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii representative
  5. Kamala Harris, California senator
  6. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota senator
  7. Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator
  8. Tom Steyer, businessman
  9. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator
  10. Andrew Yang, entrepreneur

The Democratic National Committee raised the polling and donor criteria that candidates must meet to qualify for the November debate. Candidates could either reach 3% in four national or early-state, DNC-approved polls, or reach 5% in two early-state polls. They also had to demonstrate that they have 165,000 unique donors, including at least 600 each in at least 20 states, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.

State of play in Iowa

According to the latest Des Moines Register poll, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has shot to the lead in the Hawkeye State and now enjoys the support of 25% of likely caucus goers. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is supported by 16%, former Vice President Joe Biden is supported by 15%, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is also at 15%.

CBS Newsrecent Battleground Tracker poll shows a four-way race at the top in Iowa, with Sanders and Biden tied at 22%, Buttigieg close behind with 21% and Warren with 18%.

Buttigieg’s sudden rise to the top of the Democratic pack in Iowa came after his strong performance in the last month’s debate. But Iowa voters are notoriously fickle, and have been known to change their minds about whom to support in the final days before the caucuses. So while the 37-year-old mayor is currently at the top of the pack, a lot can change between now and the caucuses.

Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders and Biden currently make up the top tier of Democratic presidential hopefuls. But a number of other candidates, such as Senators Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are holding out for a strong finish in Iowa. Wednesday’s debate provides a golden opportunity for struggling candidates to add a much-needed jolt to their campaigns less than 100 days out from the Iowa caucuses.

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