Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to debate amid coronavirus crisis


Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders are set to take part in a head-to-head debate March 15.

Katherine Kealey

The next Democratic debate will take place at 7 p.m. March 15, and a lot has changed since the last in February.

This debate will only have two candidates, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the debate will not have an audience and was recently moved from Phoenix, Ariz. to Washington D.C. due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency March 13 and announced new travel restrictions from certain European countries during an address to the nation earlier in the week.

Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said he expects coronavirus will be one of the main talking points of the debate.

“[Biden and Sanders] are going to use the current situation as an opportunity to attack Trump, personally, and his administration for not doing a particularly robust job, that is a very polite statement,” Shelley said. “I think they will be a lot more direct about it than that. They will basically argue that Trump is self-centered and fundamentally not competent to deal with situations like this.”

Shelley said the two candidates will use this as a reason to vote for them, but they will take different approaches at using the crisis to bring in voters. He said Sanders will use this as a way to promote “Medicare for All” as a solution to the health crisis, while Biden will use it mostly to beat up Trump.

Since the February debate, Biden has taken a big lead over Sanders, performing well in the previous primaries. Biden has 890 delegates while Sanders has 736 delegates, according to an NPR delegate tracker. Shelley said it is unlikely for Sanders to catch up to Biden at this point, and the majority of super delegates will support Biden.

Shelley said he expects both candidates to continue to tout their platforms they have been pushing for since the beginning of the race.

“I think Biden is just going to talk about electability, electability and electability, that is kind of what has gotten him into the front leader position,” Shelley said. “Sanders I think is going to pretty much stick to his script, he is the ideas guy and Biden is an electability guy so they will play to their strengths.”

Shelley said the main thing the candidates need to do to perform well is to not make any big mistakes throughout their presentation.

“Mental lapses are something you are waiting to happen during events like this,” Shelley said. “I don’t think that has happened in a major way with Sanders, there was the event of his heart attack but it doesn’t seem to be a mental issue. This may be a biased statement, but Biden doesn’t always seem to be all quite there. He doesn’t quite engage with the questions.”

In the previous debate, Biden claimed 150 million Americans had been killed by gun violence since 2007, and Shelley said errors like this can make people think twice about who they are voting for.

“I think he has been scripted to say certain things, so it often doesn’t come out right,” Shelley said. “He has been talked about for a very long time and has been often referred to as a ‘gaffe machine.'”