As recently as a couple of days ago, it wasn't altogether clear whether tonight's Democratic debate would take place. Fortunately, the negotiations worked out, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, "It's on."
With Marin O'Malley no longer in the race, this will be the first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle, and the first ever face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It also comes at a key moment in the race: this is the only time these two will face off in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary.
The moderators will be "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and our own Rachel Maddow, who'll kick things off tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
The fine folks at NBC's First Read helped set the stage in a piece this morning:
Tonight's Democratic debate — the first one-on-one showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders— comes 1) after the close race in Iowa, 2) five days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and 3) as the party appears more divided than at any point during the Obama Era.Who is a progressive? (Sanders yesterday charged that anyone who takes money from Wall Street and has a Super PAC doesn't meet the standard, while Clinton replied that Sanders' purity test would disqualify many in her party.) Who is the *real* Democrat in this race? (Clinton has listed her long time working for the party, while Sanders has never associated with it until now.) What is the best way to create political change? (Is it through Clinton's experience and perseverance? Or Sanders' revolution?) And what is the top job for the next Democratic president? (Is it protecting the gains made over the last seven years and improving them at the margins? Or is it by going in a completely different direction?)
MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald also highlighted "four things to watch" during tonight's showdown.
Meanwhile, there can be little doubt who enters the debate favored in the first-in-the-nation primary:
Bernie Sanders maintains a significant double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, according to an NBC News/Wall Street/Marist poll conducted after Clinton's narrow apparent win in Monday's Iowa caucuses.Sanders gets the support of 58 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, while Clinton gets 38 percent -- essentially unchanged from last week's NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, which showed Sanders ahead by a 57 percent-to-38 percent margin in the Granite State.
Finally, note that there will be a free livestream of the debate available at MSNBC.com/DemDebate.