Prep for tonight’s Democratic debate? | A background guide

The AP

The Democrats’ debate lineup is down to a tidy trio, now that two of their presidential candidates have quit the race.

That should make it easier to keep the debaters straight: the woman, the socialist and … who’s that other guy? Oh yeah, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. 

The new math gives O’Malley, barely registering in polls so far, better odds of getting noticed Saturday night in this second go-round for Democrats.

A guide to the personalities taking the stage in Des Moines, Iowa, for the CBS broadcast.


Key features: Nearly everybody recognizes her. She’s the only candidate who’s lived in the White House already, as first lady.

A quick sketch:

_ Daughter of a fabric store owner and a homemaker living in the Chicago suburbs.

_ Met her future husband and future president, Bill Clinton, at Yale Law School.

_ After serving as first lady of Arkansas and then of the U.S., elected to Senate from New York.

_ Early Democratic front-runner in 2008, lost presidential nomination to Barack Obama.

_ Both praised and criticized in four years as Obama’s secretary of state.

Also of note:

Clinton has hung onto her front-runner status in the party despite congressional investigations into her use of a private email server as secretary of state and the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on her watch. She’s also faced questions about big donations from foreigners accepted by the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.

Might Clinton be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you prefer a Democrat who has a more aggressive foreign policy than Obama.

Perhaps no, if you want a president who comes into office untarnished by congressional probes. 

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Make public universities affordable and community colleges tuition-free.

_ Tighten gun laws by expanding background checks and allowing lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

_ Opposes an Obama initiative that she once supported: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

In a nutshell:

Early favorite. Second-timer. Establishment.


Key features: He’s an independent senator from Vermont who calls himself a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist.

A quick sketch:

_ Son of a Polish immigrant father; raised in Brooklyn with the accent to prove it.

_ A student civil rights activist at the University of Chicago in the `60s.

_ Unseated the Democratic mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by 10 votes in 1981.

_ Elected to U.S. House in 1990; Congress’ longest-serving independent.

_ Early and vocal opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Also of note:

Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, but he’s never been a Democrat. He represented an anti-war third party in four unsuccessful races for office in Vermont in the 1970s. He was elected Burlington mayor as an independent. He caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, but he’s called both the Democratic and Republican parties tools of the wealthy.

Might Sanders be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you want a president to tackle income inequality as “the great moral issue of our time.”

Perhaps no, if you want government to get smaller, not bigger.

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Create a “Medicare for all” single-payer universal health care program.

_ Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

_ Make tuition free at public colleges and universities.

In a nutshell:

Socialist. Populist. Politically independent.


Key features: He’s a former Maryland governor who champions data-driven leadership — and sings, too.

A quick sketch:

_ Father was a suburban D.C. lawyer; mother’s been a congressional staffer for nearly three decades.

_ Met his wife while they were University of Maryland law students.

_ Elected Baltimore mayor at age 36, he took a statistics-heavy approach to reducing crime.

_ During two terms as governor, ending in January, he signed laws legalizing gay marriage, repealing the death penalty.

_ The longtime frontman of a Celtic rock band, he sometimes sings and plays guitar at campaign events.

Also of note:

One of the achievements O’Malley boasts about — dramatically reducing Baltimore’s high crime rate as mayor — is getting new scrutiny in a time of national Black Lives Matter protests. Critics contend that O’Malley’s zero-tolerance anti-crime policies fostered a culture of harassment and abuse of black citizens that they blame for the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody in April.

Might O’Malley be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you want to shield people in the country without legal documents from deportation until immigration law is overhauled.

Perhaps no, if you dislike his history of raising taxes.

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Increase Social Security benefits for seniors by raising payroll taxes on high earners.

_ Toughen gun laws, including requiring a background check with fingerprints for every gun sale.

_ Tighten banking rules and break up big banks to end potential for bailouts.

In a nutshell:

Policy wonk. Liberal. Young voter strategy.

On the Web…

For details on how to watch the debate, go to CBS News.