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Hooper: 10 on a stage? No, let’s have a Democratic presidential tournament

It’s a fun, flavorful way to settle any debate
In Ernest Hooper's Democratic Presidential Debate Tournament, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris would be the top four seeds. [ASSOCIATED PRESS]
Published Jun. 24
Updated Jun. 24

The guy at work starts an office pool, Warren Buffett promises a $1 million to whoever correctly predicts every match and folks gather at sports bars to root on their favorites.

It’s all good until the underdog pulls off the upset, and your bracket gets busted.

NCAA Tournament time? Nope. In my dream world it’s the first series of Democratic presidential debates. Forget March Madness. We need eight crazy June nights of one-on-one debates between the top 20 candidates.

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Instead, the Democratic National Committe took what it deemed the top 20 contenders and divided them in half. We’ll see the candidates square off 10 at a time in two debates on Wednesday and Thursday.

But what can we really learn from 10 people armed with talking points and speaking in one-minute soundbites.

Not much.

The Hooper Debate Tournament offers far more excitement. Imagine: the 20 candidates seeded and placed in a single-elimination bracket. Well, imagine no more because I’ve done it for you.

In Ernest Hooper's imaginary Democratic Debate Tournament, candidates would square off in one-hour debates. Designed by DON BROWN | Times

Yes, I have too much time on my hands. But a bracket can be used to solve any debate. My friend Joe Humphrey is in the middle of a Better Burger Bracket on Twitter. Culver’s upset Burger-Fi in the second round, in case you’re wondering.

And really, it wasn’t difficult. I seeded the candidates using the composite polling the DNC relied upon to help create its debate lineup. We broke ties with a blind draw.

In a 20-team bracket — as any youth softball tournament organizer might tell you — there are four play-in games.

Four teams face off with each winner taking on one of the top four seeds: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

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An informed, unbiased panel would determine winners. Sure, human judging makes it a bit sticky, but I’m not suggesting this be used to determine the party nominee.

It would just be a three-week platform that would allow us to learn more, and generate greater interest.

The bracket would intrigue Democrats and Republicans, politicos and passersby.

We would assess Joe Biden’s chances of facing off against Bernie Sanders in the finals. We would handicap the first round battle royale between Julian Castro and Corey Booker.

We would wonder if Kirsten Gillibrand could upset Pete Buttigieg — because the 12th seed almost always upsets the 5th seed.

Before you know it, Dick Vitale would be weighing in, probably telling everybody not to discount his paisan Bill De Blasio.

Vegas steps up and starts setting odds, and suddenly at the intersection of politics and sports, interest sky rockets and maybe, just maybe, more people vote.

And if author Marianne Williamson upsets De Blasio, we’ll stop wondering how she beat out the governor of Montana for a spot in the top 20.

If given a real chance, maybe Williamson will prove “powerful beyond measure.” After all, Donald Trump is president, so anything is possible.

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In all seriousness, if we’re potentially electing the next leader of the free world, we need as much information as possible — about every candidate from both parties, including the incumbent.

As I watch Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll wonder if the format overshadows a potentially great candidate because they don’t have enough time to to really express their ideas or how they would like to lead.

That’s all I’m saying.

Follow Ernest Hooper at @hoop4you. Sign up for his newsletter at


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