The CNN/New York Times presidential debate tonight in Ohio will be the most pivotal moment yet in the Democratic race. The clash among 12 candidates will highlight growing vulnerabilities among front-runners and offer outsiders one of a dwindling number of chances to break through.
Here’s what each major candidate must do:
Joe Biden must make sure his debate is not overshadowed by Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about his son’s financial dealings. He has fiercely rebutted any suggestion of impropriety, and his Democratic rivals have defended him so far.
But they may not be above wondering why Hunter Biden risked conflicts of interest by doing business abroad while his father was vice president.
Bernie Sanders is desperate for a strong showing after a heart attack raised questions about his age and health. The 78-year-old senator from Vermont was already in danger of losing the battle for the party’s progressive left. He can’t afford to slip.
Elizabeth Warren has overtaken Sanders and is now considered a co-front-runner with Biden. That means she’s got a target on her back.
The liberal senator from Massachusetts bills herself as the candidate with a plan for anything, but expect her rivals to attack her glaringly unspecific position on a top issue: health care.
Pete Buttigieg’s quietly impressive campaign and bumper fundraising could set him up for a possible late surge into the first contest in Iowa. But he must disprove impressions that — as the 37-year-old mayor of a small Indiana city — he lacks the experience to be president.
Kamala Harris needs something to happen. Soon. A campaign that started with great promise has sputtered, partly due to the California senator’s shaky grasp of her own policies. Time is running out for a leap into the top tier.
Everyone else — including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Obama administration Cabinet Secretary Julián Castro and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas — simply must give voters a reason to care.
Some of them are already in danger of falling short of the stricter criteria for the next debate, in November.