Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Time for Another "Debate"

Maybe one day soon, the voting public can settle upon an alternate name for these events where candidates get up on stage and perform their pre-scripted talking points. During the first presidential debates, back in 1960, the focus was on the issues. These days, especially when there are 5-10 people on stage, [Candidate X] generally gets a question and gives a brief and unrevealing response, and then [Candidate Y] takes a potshot, and then we move on to some other subject. Rather than hearing a little bit on 15 different issues, it would be much more instructive if the moderators had the fortitude to pare the list down to three subjects, or even two, or one. If the event was entirely about, say, abortion or foreign aid, then wouldn't that stick in the mind far longer than... whatever the hell they talked about at the last "debate"?

Of course, they do not ask us. Further, while our agenda is to educate voters and to help them make informed decisions, the agenda of those who stage (and participate in) the debates is to get ratings and to create pithy soundbites. So, the third Republican candidates' "debate" isn't going to be much different from the second one, structurally, excepting that there will be two fewer people on stage. Mike Pence has withdrawn from the race, of course, and almost certainly wouldn't have made the "70,000 donors" threshold, anyhow. And while Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) continues to entertain the fantasy that he could be president, he didn't make the polling threshold.

That leaves us with five people who qualified and who will actually show up: Nikki Haley, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). The Senator just barely qualified, getting the last poll he needed about 48 hours before the cutoff. Oh, and in case you are wondering, it was not yet known at press time if DeSantis will wear the 3-inch lifts, or if he'll go for something more demure. It doesn't matter if he is taller than Scott, but it is essential to his campaign that he tower over Haley.

Is there any chance at all that tonight's event is at all interesting? Sure, there's a chance. The five folks in attendance really comprise two distinct tiers, candidate-wise. Haley and DeSantis are the two individuals still in the running to be the "vote for me if you don't want Trump" candidate. They've got this debate, and probably one more, and then the caucuses and primaries will be underway. So, there's a fair chance they go after each other. It could get feisty.

Meanwhile, the remaining trio will have a very hard time making it to the stage for the fourth debate, as they are all well short of the polling cutoff, while Scott and Christie also appear to be well short of the donors cutoff. This could be their very last chance to keep the dream alive, at least for a few more weeks. So, one or more of them might try something desperate to allow them to break out. What that might be, however, we do not know.

In an effort to keep things as interesting as possible, we're going to run a variant of the bingo game we did for the first debate, one that will allow an actual competition. Here are five groups of things likely to come up, grouped by theme:

Attacks on Joe Biden General Attacks on Democrats Names Foreign Affairs Religion

If you'd like to play, here is the entry form. All you have to do is pick which item in each category you think will come up first. If you pick "Donald Trump," for example, and he actually is the first of the five names to be uttered by one of the candidates on stage, then you get 10 points. If he's the second of the five, 8 points, 6 points if he's third, 4 points if he's fourth, 2 points if he's fifth and 0 points if he's not mentioned at all. That means that a maximum score is 50 points, if a reader correctly picks the first reference in all five categories (there's also a tiebreaker question).

We would also be appreciative of help with identifying correct answers. If you hear any of the 25 items on the list mentioned by one of the candidates on stage, it would be very helpful to send us a message that says something like "8:01 ET: Donald Trump" or "8:45 ET: Jesus."

And speaking of Donald Trump, who some supporters see as Jesus, he'll be counterprogramming the debate, yet again. This time, it's a rally in Hialeah, just down the street from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, where the debate is going to be held. We're not running a contest for that one.

If you wish to watch, the debate will be televised on MSNBC, and will be streamed here. It starts at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Z)

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