Five Democratic presidential candidates meet in Las Vegas for first debate

By Amy R. Connolly  |  Updated Oct. 13, 2015 at 7:59 AM
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LAS VEGAS, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Five Democratic presidential hopefuls will take the stage Tuesday night in Las Vegas in the first debate of their 2016 election campaign.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton will take center stage, flanked by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, in the two-hour live debate that will likely focus on policy and political records. At the same time, the Democrats need to show they can bring as much enthusiasm and excitement to the table as the Republicans have in their last two debates.

Analysts said Clinton needs to push past issues that have been dogging her campaign, namely her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and her flip-flop on issues, and Sanders must further distinguish himself with his continued movement to the left on gun control and other issues. For the remaining candidates, the challenge will be to get their names out there.

Looming large over the debate will be Vice President Joe Biden's possible entry into the race.

"The debates will alter the race," said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist and top staffer in President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. "Clinton will no longer be running against herself — the debates will force a choice, but only if she strongly stands by her positions, record and beliefs and doesn't get pushed to the left by others."

The main issues that are likely to be on the forefront are gun control, trade, banks and foreign policy.

The debate is one of only six scheduled Democratic debates, half the number Republicans will hold.

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