Democrats set for high-stakes debate in Iowa

BreakingTrump takes the stage in Wisconsin

Trump has just walked to the podium in Milwaukee for a campaign rally.

He’s beginning by flattering the local football team, the Green Bay Packers, and touting his accomplishments in office.

Meanwhile, his campaign is flying a sign over the debate venue in Iowa saying that Trump “fights for Iowa farmers”.

trump flag

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White House hopefuls draw battle lines in Iowa

Anthony Zurcher

BBC North America reporter

Composite image of Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders

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In three weeks, Iowa Democrats will begin the party’s process for selecting a nominee to take on Donald Trump in the general election.

And tonight they host a high-stakes debate. After more than a year of campaigning, it’s almost time for actual voters to begin weighing in – and the race is still wide open.

Lil and Jarad Bernstein stood at the edge of the crowd gathered near the stage after a Pete Buttigieg rally in Des Moines on Sunday.

They were two of the several hundred who had turned out on a snowy evening to hear the former South Bend, Indiana mayor speak, but unlike many of the attendees – who came sporting campaign T-shirts, buttons and hats – they were not entirely sold on him yet.

“I like all of the candidates,” Lil said. “I’m really just looking for someone who can win the nomination and ultimately beat Trump in the election.”

Read Anthony’s full analysis here.

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People voting

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What Trump supporters make of Democratic field

President Donald Trump is having a rally tonight in Wisconsin, from where the BBC’s Holly Honderich reports.

“This is the best,” Renee Mielke says. “I even took off my job… I just wanted to see Mr Donald Trump speak.”

I asked if any Democrat looking to face-off again the president this year scared her.

“None of them do,” Mielke said.

Trump has her vote – but of all the Democrats squaring off at the debate tonight, Mielke says, Bernie Sanders is her favourite.

“He too is just trying to stand up for what he believes, he doesn’t back down.”

Trump supporter

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Lack of diversity?

Steyer, Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar

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Image caption: On stage tonight – Steyer, Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar

Of the 12 Democrats left in the running, only three are non-white – Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Deval Patrick.

And, for the first time since the series of debates began last year, you won’t see any of them on stage.

Critics have pointed out how similar the candidates who qualified are, given that the diversity of the field was praised at the start of the election season.

Senator Cory Booker, who is African-American, dropped out of the race yesterday, while Julian Castro, the only Latino in the field, also ended his presidential bid this month.

Booker had told MSNBC in December the party was “spiralling towards a debate stage…with no diversity whatsoever”.

And this month, the Washington Post ran a column titled “Democrats are starting to look like a ‘Whites only’ party”.

Even some Republicans have weighed in:

As the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher noted with Booker’s departure, the growing lack of diversity is “a challenge the party will have to confront in the days ahead”.

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