What to expect at the first Democratic debates
By Sophie Austin June 25, 2019


Editor's note: This story is part of PolitiFact’s ongoing coverage of the 2020 campaign. For more candidate profiles and fact-checking, go to www.politifact.com/2020/

The week of the first Democratic presidential debates has arrived, and 20 candidates will get a chance to formally showcase their policy ideas for 2020. The debates, which will take place in Miami, are split up into two nights, with 10 candidates each. 

Out of 24 Democratic candidates running, all but four met the fundraising or polling threshold to participate. The Democrats who didn’t make the cut are Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana; Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla; and former Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. 

The debates will be broadcast on NBC News, Telemundo and MSNBC at 9 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday and Thursday. They will be moderated by journalists Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, José Díaz-Balart and commentator Rachel Maddow.

For Wednesday’s debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts stands out as a leading candidate, according to national polls. On Thursday, a packed field of frontrunners includes former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sen. Kamala Harris of California. 

Key issues to watch out for include health care, income inequality, education and climate change. Candidates have also taken part in conversations about reparations, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California recently vocalized their support for exploring the issue at a House hearing.

Most candidates have some form of political experience, but activist and author Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang hope to differentiate themselves as political outsiders. Williamson has made the theme of peace central to her campaign, and Yang’s signature policy is to give every American adult a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month.

Here are all the candidates you’ll see each night: 

Day 1: Wednesday, June 26

Bill de Blasio

Mayor of New York City

Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor since 2014, promises to be a "president who puts working people first." He’s made income inequality one of his top issues. As mayor, he passed a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, universal pre-kindergarten and a city ID card for undocumented immigrants.

Tim Ryan

U.S. House member from Ohio

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan comes from a long line of factory workers who thinks the American Dream has passed "by too many people." In an appearance on "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," he said he wants to restore manufacturing jobs to overlooked workers. Ryan lost a bid for Speaker of the House to Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in 2016.

Julián Castro

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary

In 2012, Julián Castro, then the mayor of San Antonio, took the national spotlight as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention. He later served as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, and is now running his presidential campaign with proposals to increase access to education and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Cory Booker

Senator from New Jersey

Sen. Cory Booker wants to put in place solutions to address wealth inequality, including a "baby bonds" policy, that would create a savings account for American children. The former mayor of Newark emphasizes finding solutions to poverty because he’s been surrounded by it in his everyday life. Booker also calls for reforms to the criminal justice system and solutions to environmental injustice.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator from Massachusetts

"I’ve got a plan for that," is the statement Sen. Elizabeth Warren is known for repeating throughout her campaign. Warren has plans for consumer financial protection, financial regulation and creating a wealth tax on assets over $50 million. Warren previously taught law at the University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. She received criticism for noting on law school forms that she had Native American ancestry and for taking a DNA test to backup her claims, which she has apologized for.

Beto O’Rourke

Former U.S. House member from Texas

After representing Texas in the House, Beto O’Rourke made his way onto the national stage in a tight Senate race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. A border-state candidate, O’Rourke wants to contrast Trump’s rhetoric linking undocumented immigrants to crime. O’Rourke promises to reunite separated families at the border and reform the country’s asylum system.

Amy Klobuchar

Senator from Minnesota

Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced a $1 trillion plan to support and expand infrastructure. She also wants to roll out a $100 billion plan to improve substance abuse and mental health treatment, an issue she witnessed through her father’s struggles with alcoholism. Klobuchar got some bad press early in the campaign for allegations that she’s tough on her staff. 

Tulsi Gabbard

U.S. House member from Hawaii

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard promises to keep the United States out of "regime change wars." Gabbard served two tours of duty in the Middle East and has spoken out against U.S. involvement in Libya and Syria. She’s also proposed ending federal subsidies for oil companies and investing in renewable energy. Early in her presidential bid, Gabbard apologized for previously advocating against gay rights.

Jay Inslee

Governor of Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate change the key issue of his campaign. He wants to move the U.S. economy toward renewable energy to create jobs and improve foreign policy. Inslee served eight terms in the House and is in his second term as governor. He’s challenged Trump directly on the issue of shootings at schools, opposing the president’s proposal to arm teachers.

John Delaney

Former U.S. House member from Maryland

In July 2017, the first candidate entered the 2020 Democratic presidential field: John Delaney. Delaney is running his campaign with a focus on revising the Affordable Care Act. He’s also introduced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan and a $4 trillion climate plan. He has experience as an entrepreneur and was one of the wealthiest members of the House.

Day 2: Thursday, June 27

Marianne Williamson

Author and activist

Marianne Williamson wants to lead the country into a "spiritual awakening" and create a U.S. Department of Peace. Williamson also supports providing reparations to the descendants of slaves and Medicare for All. She hopes to stand out as a candidate who focuses on the root causes of problems, instead of the symptoms. 

John Hickenlooper

Former Governor of Colorado

John Hickenlooper, a former Colorado governor and Denver mayor, wants to ensure the Democrats don’t stand for socialism. He opposes the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Hickenlooper thinks a "Trump-fueled national crisis" is dividing Americans and wants to bring people together on the issues of near-universal health care and improving the economy. 

Andrew Yang


The "Freedom Dividend" is Andrew Yang’s plan to give every American a guaranteed $1,000 a month. Yang thinks instilling a universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue, but some critics say the plan could cost too much. Yang also wants to address the threat of artificial intelligence on jobs. Yang founded Venture for America, a company that offers entrepreneurial fellowships to college graduates.

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Pete Buttigieg, or "Mayor Pete," has presented himself as a plainspoken, pragmatic candidate from the Midwest. At 37, Buttigieg often notes that he grew up in a generation familiar with shootings at schools and post-9/11 wars. He served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 2009-17. Buttigieg has grappled with low poll numbers among black voters and tensions between law enforcement and African Americans in South Bend. Buttigieg is the first major openly gay presidential candidate. 

Joe Biden

Former U.S. Vice President

This is Joe Biden’s third bid for the presidency. In 1972, he joined the Senate at the age of 29, where he served seven terms. His top issues include protecting the Affordable Care Act, income inequality and workers’ rights. Biden, who’s consistently been at the front of the pack, recently received criticism from Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and other candidates over his comments about getting "things done" when there were segregationists in the Senate.

Bernie Sanders

Senator from Vermont

Sen. Bernie Sanders made his mark in the 2016 presidential primary, running as a self-described democratic socialist against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sanders hopes to address income inequality to fix the "rigged game" of the U.S. economy. He also wants to launch Medicare for All, which would cover every American and eliminate costs for co-pays, premiums or deductibles. In addition to serving as a senator, Sanders served in the House from 1991 to 2007.

Kamala Harris

Senator from California

Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, has become known in recent years for her tough questioning of Trump administration appointees. Harris has plans to improve teacher compensation and adopt universal background checks, as well as an assault weapons ban. Harris has received criticism over her criminal justice record during her time as a prosecutor, but she also worked to eliminate bias in law enforcement and reduce recidivism.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator from New York

When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her presidential candidacy on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," she said she was running "to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own." Gillibrand wants to improve America’s public schools and help workers into the middle class. She’s a prominent supporter of the "Me Too" movement and has introduced legislation to change the military response to sexual assault cases.

Michael Bennet

Senator from Colorado

During the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado surprised the public when he gave a fiery speech directed at Cruz, accusing him of not showing genuine empathy for government workers. Bennet acknowledged his approach was out of the ordinary and is now running to try to "reduce extreme partisanship." He plans to pass paid family leave, make U.S. workers out-compete China in future industries and cut taxes for middle class families.

Eric Swalwell

House member from California

The United States is in "quicksand, unable to solve threats from abroad, unable to make life better for people here at home," according to Rep. Eric Swalwell. He wants to address gun violence by placing a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and launching a buyback program. He also wants the country to invest in searching for cures to severe illnesses and empower and protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Swalwell was elected to serve in the House in 2012.

Keep an eye out for PolitiFact’s live fact-checking of the debates Wednesday and Thursday; check our homepage that night for more details.

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What to expect at the first Democratic debates