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Is this the Mayor Pete debate? What to watch for tonight in Atlanta.

The latest Democratic debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, will take place amid impeachment hearings in Washington.
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) [NATI HARNIK | AP]
Published Nov. 20
Updated Nov. 20

October’s Democratic debate in Ohio already feels like ages ago.

A lot has changed since ten presidential hopefuls met on stage on Oct. 15. There have been new faces in the race, such as former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, as well as subtractions, such as former Texas representative Beto O’ Rourke — who dropped out of the race — and former federal housing secretary Julián Castro, who failed to qualify for Wednesday night’s debate.

There’s been some shifting at the top as well.

The ‘Big 3’ of presidential hopefuls may now well be a ‘Big 4,' as South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has picked up steam in Iowa and elsewhere. The 37-year-old now joins former vice president Joe Biden and senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as the race’s clear favorites.

The four will be joined on stage by Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer.

The debate will begin at 9 p.m. and will be broadcast exclusively on MSNBC. It will also stream for free on MSNBC.com and washingtonpost.com.

As the candidates take the stage for two hours from Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, here’s what to watch for:

Will Warren better defend Medicare for All?

In this Nov. 17, 2019, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party in Las Vegas. Warren has released a proposal to combat white nationalism that includes making prosecuting crimes committed by hate groups a top priority for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. (AP Photo/John Locher) [JOHN LOCHER | AP]

Warren felt a barrage of attacks from the Democrat’s more moderate group of candidates — namely Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg — over her support for the single-payer Medicare for All plan at the last debate.

Specifically, they pressed her on how’d she pay for it.

“Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything — except this," Buttigieg told Warren in the debate.

Quickly reacting to criticism, Warren released a plan of how she planned to finance Medicare for All two weeks later. Her plan, released Nov. 1, included a promise to not raise taxes on the middle class “by one penny.”

The plan still didn’t calm Buttigieg and Biden — who still openly oppose it and its proposed cost of $20.5 trillion.

Warren’s plan marked a break with that of Sanders, who has said that his version of Medicare for All would require more taxes on America’s middle class.

Buttigieg, meanwhile, will likely have more of a chance to discuss and face scrutiny his own proposal — which he calls “Medicare for all who want it" — as he has become the front runner in Iowa in a handful of polls.

How will Mayor Pete handle his rise to the race’s top tier?

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) [JOHN LOCHER | AP]

Buttigieg will take the stage in Atlanta as a legitimate threat to the top Democratic presidential candidates for the first time. That makes Wednesday night the biggest of his campaign to date.

Buttigieg rocketed to the top of the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll that was released on Monday, placing him eight points ahead of Warren, and nine ahead of Biden and Sanders. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, the South Bend mayor surged to a 10-point lead, according to a new Saint Anselm College poll released Tuesday.

With the increase in poll numbers, however, will likely come an increase in attacks from the race’s more progressive candidates.

“Everyone’s going to come for Pete. There’s a target on his back — no question about it. That’s what happens when you jump in the polls,” Jon Soltz, the executive director of VoteVets, told Politico. “I know Pete and he will show he can take the heat and punch back.”

It’ll be interesting to see how other candidates come after Buttigieg — as they surely will — and how the mayor, who has long been in the race’s ‘second tier,' responds.

A final appeal to voters from the fringe candidates?

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) [JOHN LOCHER | AP]

As it stands now, Wednesday night would be the last time Booker, Gabbard, Yang and Steyer have a spot on the debate stage.

To qualify for next month’s debate, presidential hopefuls must attract four percent support in four national or early-state polls, or have six percent in two early-state polls between Oct. 16 and Dec. 12. They will also have to collect contributions from 200,000 unique donors (including at least 800 donors in at least 20 states or territories).

In short, qualifying for December’s debate will be the hardest yet.

To qualify, Steyer still needs to reach the donor threshold, while Yang and Gabbard are just one poll away. Booker, despite solid debate appearances since the summer, is still four polls shy.

One of — or potentially all four — of the candidates will try to make a splash Wednesday night.

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