HOUSTON – Barreling into Thursday night’s third debate for in a tightening race for the Democratic nomination, a number of hot topics appear possible points of discussion among the party’s hopefuls.
With the candidates in Texas for this debate, I expect the topics to include a focus on gun control, immigration policy reform and the possibilities of Texas as a battleground state in the 2020 general election. All of these topics centered on Texas — but will anyone be able to emerge as a clear contender, the one hoping to the first Democrat to win the state since 1976?
As a Texan and a youth closely following the election, I will make a few predictions. And while I can’t attest to be a political oracle, I feel people either become disillusioned to politics and tune out the battles, or instead focus on recurring trends and patterns.
Beto O’Rourke — Something that caught my attention headed into the state’s most populous city, and the nation’s fourth largest, it was virtually impossible not to see the plethora of “BETO for Senate” or “BETO for America” signs and posters. O’Rourke is popular in Texas, that much is clear. But what isn’t so clear is whether he will outperform his previous two debate appearances. With Texas-focused policies and questions encircling the candidates during their stay, it would be a real problem if O’Rourke isn’t able to emerge as a victor from Thursday’s debate. Though his performance has been the subject of much discussion, his recent pivot to a hardline stance on gun control and border reform suggests that he is well aware of the answers young Texans seem to be yearning to hear. I think he’s very likely to leave tonight’s event as one of the top contenders.
Joe Biden — With his early lead falling in recent weeks, and facing the rise of several contenders for his early status as the leader in the race, Biden simply must perform well tonight. Inconsistent in his past appearances, he can expect to take a number of shots from opponents with an eye to replicate the “Kamala effect.” Some of Biden’s opponents come into tonight needing to win enough of those shots to make it through to the next debate. For Biden, there appears to be little choice other than to prepare a strong, coherent and persuasive defense for all of the vulnerabilities opponents have been quick to point out. If he fails, stammers or gaffes, we may see Biden recede to runner-up status in the near future.
Elizabeth Warren — After a series of polls on showing Warren her as the runner-up to Biden’s frontrunner status — trailed closely trailed by ally Bernie Sanders — Warren is well-poised to take the lead if she does well tonight. After the last debate reiterating her alliance with Sanders, she has picked up support those seeking a more policy-specific, composed and down-to-earth nominee from this season. If she aptly prioritizes and champions both gun control, immigration reform and her spotty record on foreign policy, I think we could see Warren overtake Biden in a momentous shift in this primary, also signalling an equally momentous shift in the base of the Democratic party.
Bernie Sanders — Now running in an average of third place in most polls, Sanders faces a dilemma. He has consistently refused to challenge Warren, who has done likewise. With a heightened focus on gun control in Texas, in light of recent mass shooting events, Sanders may take shots from others on the stage on his previously-questioned stance on a ban on assault-style rifles. To continue to stand out even while being meticulously compared to Warren, Sanders may have to adopt even firmer left-populist rhetoric, at the risk of isolating his centrist and independent supporters.
Gun Control — Texans have been subjected to a pair of horrific mass shootings since the last debate two months ago. Consequently, the topic of gun control has risen to a fever pitch — especially among those in my age group. After taking a back seat to other topics in previous debates, the lack of serious government action on the issue is likely to be front and center in tonight’s debate.
Border Policy — Especially pertinent to Texas, Trump’s border wall would span across the southern portion of the state, and the question still remains which candidate will rise to the test of establishing themselves as the champion of immigration reform on the Democratic side. With mounting resistance to ICE and immigrant detention facilities, a rapidly diversifying Texas may prove crucial to a Democratic nominee running against Trump, who will doubtless use his staple immigration policy as a primary factor of his campaign.