They're Coming For Biden: 2020 Democrats Sharpen Knives Ahead Of Second Debate

Beset by racial gaffes, stodgy moderate positions, and recovering from a serious verbal beatdown by Kamala Harris last month, former Vice President Joe Biden is firmly in the crosshairs ahead of this week's second debate, according to Bloomberg

The lineup of the second debate of Democratic candidates on Tuesday and Wednesday is almost exactly the same as for the first. But the stakes on Tuesday and Wednesday are higher as the contenders try to ensure they will survive an inevitable winnowing of the crowded field.

Biden will be the main target of rivals such as Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who are likely to once again confront him issues from criminal justice to health care. -Bloomberg

And it looks like Biden is ready for a fight. 

"I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden said Thursday at Detroit fundraiser, before five days of closed-door debate preparation with advisers. His opponents, meanwhile, are maintaining busy public schedules throughout the weekend and Monday

"Joe Biden probably goes into this debate right now with the largest expectations in terms of what he must do," said University of Missouri professor Mitchell McKinney, who notes that Biden doesn't have the luxury of assuming he's the 'chosen one' anymore, and must focus on the primaries. 

In recent weeks, candidate Cory Booker - polling in the low single digits - slammed Biden as "the architect of mass incarceration," drawing a sharp rebuke from the former VP's camp. 

"You can't be called the architect of mass incarceration and remain quiet," a Biden ally told The Hill last week. "That's cruel and personal. That goes against his entire career. You can't let people say bullshit and not respond to it."

"The gloves are off," added the ally. "At this point, you have to punch back when someone attacks your record. People want to see him throw a punch. The president is certainly going to come at him hard, so why not start now?"

According to McKinney, Booker is "telegraphing his debate strategy," adding "It’s no coincidence that on the stump he’s going after Biden."

Harris vs. Biden, round 2: 

Kamala Harris absolutely 'ambushed' Biden during last month's debate over his warm recollection of working with segregationist Democratic senators as well as his opposition to federally mandated bussing programs to better integrate schools. This time around, Harris will likely continue to confront the 76-year-old Biden on race issues as they try to whittle away at his support among black voters. 

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday showed Biden a strong front-runner overall, with 53 percent support among black voters. Harris had 7 percent among black voters and Booker trailed even further.

“If they want to argue about the past, I can do that,” Biden said last week. “I got a past I’m proud of. They got a past that’s not quite so good.” -Bloomberg

Tuesday night's debate will be headlined by Bernie Sanders (VT) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), who have been 'mostly respectful of each other on the campaign trail' according to Bloomberg

A Monday Quinnipiac poll of Democrats and independent voters shows that Biden is still in the lead with 34%, while Warren stands at 15%, Harris at 12% and Sanders at 11%. 

Political headlines since the first debate also suggest possible questions for the candidates: President Donald Trump attacked four minority lawmakers, suggesting they “go back” to where they came from, even though three are American born and one moved to the US as a child. Then he began a three-day attack on Representative Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” -Bloomberg

In order to qualify for the debate, candidates need to have at least 65,000 donors from 20 states - or at least 1% in any three party-approved recent state and national polls. Next month, that requirement doubles. 

As noted by Bloomberg, just seven candidates already qualify: Biden, Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren.