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Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren stakes high while others seek breakout moment at debate

With the stages now set for the first Democratic presidential debate next week, leading candidates like former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren will look to back up their statuses as the best-polling candidates on their respective stages, while lesser-known candidates face their own pressure of scoring a breakout moment to propel their campaigns forward.

The first Democratic National Committee debates for 2020 presidential candidates will be held June 26 and 27 in Miami, with 10 candidates squaring off on each night. Mr. Biden, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris of California are slated to share the stage on the second night, which is already being billed as the main event.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, author Marianne Williamson, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado round out the list of participants appearing on the second night.

Mr. Yang, who has pushed a “universal basic income” as one of the centerpiece policies of his campaign, said Sunday that the goal is to introduce himself and his vision for the country, and that he hopes to be positioned next to Mr. Biden on the stage.

“His name recognition is sky-high, and mine is the opposite of sky-high,” Mr. Yang said on CNN. “So, if you have me next to Joe Biden, then it’s going to hopefully change that dynamic and make it so that many Americans are Googling ‘the Asian man next to Joe Biden.’”

Meanwhile Mr. Hickenlooper, who like Mr. Yang has been polling in the low single digits, will get a chance to push his message while onstage with Mr. Sanders that Democrats must make clear they are not socialists, after rebutting the Vermont senator’s recent call for the United States to embrace “democratic socialism.”

“I’m sure it’s going to come up,” Mr. Hickenlooper said in a recent appearance on CNN. “I feel strongly that Democrats have to draw a clear line and say, ‘We are not socialists.’”

Meanwhile the stakes will be high for Mr. Biden, who remains the front-runner in recent polling on the Democratic presidential field.

“Joe Biden has to do well in the debates, and everybody’s going to go after him,” former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told radio host John Catsimatidis in an interview published Sunday. “He’s got to show he can handle that pressure, because going up against Trump, you got to have your full body armor.”

Candidates sharing the debate stage with Mr. Biden could feel pressure to confront him directly — though Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright questioned whether ganging up on him would be an effective strategy for the others.

“I think that what the voters are hungry and thirsty for is what people are for — laying out your own policy agenda,” Mr. Seawright said on the CBS Sunday talk show “Face the Nation.” “We’ve heard that time and time again. And I think that if I was on that stage, I would strictly talk about what I was for.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Warren will take the stage next Wednesday evening having overtaken Mr. Sanders in some recent public polling on the race, and could feel pressure to prove herself as the true liberal alternative to Mr. Biden in the race.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination against Mr. Trump in 2016, said Ms. Warren will face pressure to “dominate” on the opening night.

“There’s a real opportunity for Warren but there will be a real pressure too because the expectation will be that she’s going to dominate the first night,” Mr. Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If she doesn’t dominate the first night, it’s a problem for her if she does, then it’s a big upside for her. So it’s a big night for her.”

NBC News, which is hosting the debate in Miami, announced the first group will also consist of Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Reps. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and John Delaney of Maryland; Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio; former Obama administration official Julian Castro; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington.

Those who missed the cut for the first debate include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam; and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska.

Candidates had to secure individual contributions from at least 65,000 donors, including 200 from 20 states, or register 1% support in at least three qualifying polls to make the debate, which the DNC capped at 20 candidates.

In response to missing the cut, Mr. Bullock’s campaign released an ad featuring a man identified as “a Montanan named Jock” who questioned the logic.

“That’s horse—,” he says in the ad. “You don’t need to be from Montana to know that anybody who wins by four [in] the same election Trump won by 20 is doing something right here.”

The DNC has defended the metrics it used, saying campaigns knew the rules well in advance.

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