Joe Biden faces a rematch against his tormentor Kamala Harris while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will go head to head in a battle of the left in the second Democratic primary debates at the end of the month.
The lineups for Detroit were decided by a draw held live on CNN on Thursday. As in the first debates in Miami, the field will be crowded with 20 candidates spread over two nights.
Harris’s surprise rebuke of former vice-president Biden’s past record on race was the standout moment of the first round. The California senator highlighted his recent comments about working with segregationist senators and his opposition to government-ordered bussing as a tool to desegregate schools.
Recalling her own experience of bussing, Harris said: “That little girl was me.” Biden’s head swiveled to look at her. He then attempted to defend himself but, competing with the clock, blurted out: “My time is up. I’m sorry.”
Biden will be under huge pressure to perform better next time and will find Harris directly standing next to him on Wednesday 31 July. The media is likely to hype it as a grudge match and opportunity for revenge.
Van Jones, an activist and commentator, likened it to “the Thrilla in Manila”, the world heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier that followed “the Rumble in the Jungle”.
Jones said on CNN: “We’ve got the big rematch now. Both these candidates have got a lot on the line.”
Adding to the intrigue, another African American candidate, Senator Cory Booker, who was also critical of Biden’s comments, will be on the former vice-president’s other side.
Before that, on Tuesday 30 July there is the intriguing prospect of senators Sanders of Vermont and Warren of Massachusetts taking centre stage together. The progressive pair, who are friends, have been chasing many of the same voters, with Sanders making the stronger start in the campaign but Warren surging in recent weeks.
The draw separates the former housing secretary Julián Castro and the former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who sparred over immigration in the first debate. Castro was widely seen as getting the better of the exchange. It puts two New Yorkers, Bill de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand, together.
Notably, also, the Tuesday lineup is all white: Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Sanders, Warren and Marianne Williamson.
The Wednesday debate will be more racially diverse: Michael Bennet, Biden, de Blasio, Booker, Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Gillibrand, Harris, Jay Inslee and Andrew Yang.
CNN’s attempt to turn the draw into a cross between sporting event and TV game show, with shuffling of cards and overhead cameras for “transparency”, did not impress everyone.
Jon Favreau, a podcaster and former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted: “This is the greatest CNN moment since their first hologram.”
Max Burns, a Democratic strategist and Fox News contributor, tweeted: “This is everything wrong with how we produce and consume political coverage in America.”