Come Oct. 15, the Democratic presidential debate won’t be so far from home; in fact, it will be in Ohio State’s backyard at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
Health care, immigration, gun control and possible jabs at Joe Biden’s age have all been addressed in previous debates, and Thursday night’s debate in Houston hinted at what viewers can expect from next month’s local stand-off.
As for October’s debate, Thomas Wood, an assistant political science professor at Ohio State said in an email that the next debate carries less weight than Thursday’s — at least for popular candidates.
“I think it should actually be a little less impactful, since everyone who qualified for the third debate automatically qualified for Otterbein,” Wood said. “So of the mainstream, extensively covered candidates, there’s very little incentive for anyone to drop out.”
Wood also said that Tom Steyer, an American billionaire, qualified for Otterbein and has never been in such a situation, and that other fringe candidates — such as author Marianne Williamson and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — who haven’t qualified for Otterbein will face pressure to drop because missing a debate is “seemingly very consequential” due to the amount of press coverage involved.
If Thursday’s debate is any indication, the October debate will likely cover health care, gun control and universal basic income.
In the ABC-hosted debate, former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads in most polls by a healthy margin, according to FiveThirtyEight, attacked Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — who, according to polls, are his most threatening opponents — about the costs of their health care plans.
“You notice that no one has yet said how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer,” Biden said at the beginning of the debate about Warren’s and Sanders’ health care plans. “I know that the senator [Warren] said she’s ‘for Bernie.’ Well, I’m for Barack.”
Both Warren and Sanders defended their proposals, stating that overall health care costs for the average American will decrease under their plans.
In one of the more heated moments of the debate, Julian Castro, former housing secretary for the Obama administration, said Biden contradicted himself when describing his own health care plan.
“Are you forgetting what you just said two minutes ago?” Castro said, receiving an uproar from the crowd. It is not clear if Castro meant to imply that Biden is too old for the office.
Deanna Henry, a third-year in political science and public affairs and president of College Democrats at Ohio State, said that although Castro was wrong, Biden used confusing language in his explanation and has an issue with political missteps.
“Biden has shown consistent unwillingness to admit when he is false or when he’s been wrong,” Henry said. “In relation to young people, we want to see accountability. We’re the generation that’s going to have to deal with the repercussions the most at this point.”
Wood said in an interview the exchange probably did not help Castro because he appeared to be attacking Biden’s age.
“Where there is a weakness that corresponds with a stereotype that some voters might have about a candidate, I don’t think it behooves their opponents to emphasize the stereotype,” Wood said. “It cuts against norms of inclusiveness and not making judgments on the basis of a candidate.”
While the debate covered a slew of issues, Wood said it may not have a direct effect on the polls; it’s about the specific moments that can make a difference.
“The people who are most firmly set are the people who tend to watch these debates — to expect this to move polls or to affect standings is fairly implausible given what we know about political science research, except if it shifts media consensus,” he said. “There has to be new information upsetting what media elites thought they knew about a candidate.”
One such moment may have been when Beto O’Rourke, a candidate from El Paso, Texas, made an emphatic statement when he was asked about his plan to force buybacks of AR-15s and AK-47s.
“In Odessa, [Texas,] I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15. In Odessa and Midland, there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said.
Nate Turner, a fourth-year in computer science and political science and president of Turning Point USA at Ohio State — a conservative student group — noted that O’Rourke’s statement drew a large amount of applause. However, he said that Warren poses the greatest threat to President Trump.
“She is educated and knows what she is talking about, and she is a perfect fit between the moderates and the liberals of the Democratic [Party]. The only concern I have with her is if she can hold her own with Trump’s debating style,” Turner said in an email. “No one has really gone against her yet, but it is only a matter of time. Depending on how she deals with confrontation, she could be a strong challenger to Trump.”
Both Wood and Turner pointed out Warren’s ability to stay out of the thick of the personal attacks and focus on her policies.
“She doesn’t want to be the person on the stage picking fights; she is focused on, ‘Hey, no matter what you might hear about politics, I am the type of person you’ve met before in your church, in your place of work; I come from middle America; I come from a very humble background,’” Wood said.
Warren’s image might seem moderate to some, but according to her website, her policies include “Medicare for All” and cancellation of large portions of student debt, putting her near Sanders on the more liberal side of the candidate pool.
Lydia Ertachew, a second-year in comparative studies and media director for College Democrats at Ohio State, said that she sees more students leaning toward Warren and Sanders.
“I’ve noticed a lot of people who are swinging in the direction of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and moving away from more of the moderate Democrats like Kamala Harris or Joe Biden,” she said.
James Smith, a fourth-year in environmental policy and decision-making and president of Young Americans for Freedom at Ohio State — a conservative student group — said that he thinks these candidates are only hurting their chances against incumbent Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“I truly believe none of the candidates who stood on the stage last week stand even the slightest chance against Trump. The [Democratic Party], if it wants a chance at retaking political power in the [White House] in 2020, needs to stop listening to the radical leftist views held by the extremists in their party and adopt policies which will benefit the people they claim to represent,” Smith said in an email.
Smith also said he believes the candidates in this race are dangerous for the country and have made “direct calls for the erosion of personal and economic freedoms.”
The next Democratic presidential debate will take place at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, according to a statement from the Democratic National Committee. It will be co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN.