CNN will host the 2016 democratic presidential candidates' first debate on Tuesday night. The debate starts at 9P.M. E.T and will live stream through CNN. The five candidates facing off are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), her top challenger; former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb; and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Vice President Joe Biden was anticipated to file for the presidential race and join Tuesday's debate, but is now expected to skip this one with no announcement thus far.
CNN is using the hashtag #DemDebate to spark conversation leading up to and during Tuesday's event. Users are encouraged to ask questions, and CNN showcased a question from singer Demi Lovato's as an example Tuesday morning.
Here's everything you should know about tonight's debate:
Moderators and anthem singer: Aside from the five competing candidates, the event will include CNN's Cooper 360 host Anderson Cooper, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon and CNN anchor Dana Bash. Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow will perform the national anthem.
Podium order: Clinton will take center stage, with rival Sanders to her right, O'Malley to her left and Chafee and Webb on the left and right ends respectively. Should Biden decide to join the debate last minute, a podium spot will be made for him.
"Clinton will no longer be running against herself": Though frontrunner Clinton is a seasoned politician and consequently the most experienced debater of the candidates, this is her competitors' chance to change the game. "The debates will alter the race," Stephanie Cutter, Democratic strategist and a top staffer in President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, told USA Today.
"Clinton will no longer be running against herself — the debates will force a choice, but only if she strongly stands by her positions, record and beliefs and doesn't get pushed to the left by others," Cutter told the paper.
Clinton–Sanders showdown: The debate comes after Sanders closed the gap against Clinton in Iowa polls.
A big question is how Clinton and Sanders will handle their first face-to-face encounter after they've mostly shied away from attacking each other during the campaign thus far. The face-off will be a key opportunity for the two to "contrast their personality and experiences," CNN reported.
O'Malley's time to shine: The debate is underdog O'Malley's opportunity to be recognized by voters. The former Maryland governor is expected to highlight his eight-year term as an example of his strong liberal strategy and use it to attack Clinton's "overly political" policies, the Washington Post reports.
O'Malley's progressive values most closely mirror those of Sanders, but this may be his last chance to differentiate his himself from Sanders and attract more attention from voters and the media. "If he doesn't distinguish himself as the person more likely to achieve results for a progressive agenda, rather than just a protest, then he's out." Cutter told USA Today.
Those other two guys: Webb and Chafee have yet to campaign or establish why they're running for president, but it's important to note that the two candidates are bitter rivals, the New Yorker reports, and quite distinct. Webb's sharp and outspoken personality may help him stand out, while Chafee's soft-spokenness will make it harder for him to do so, according to Washington Post politics reporter Chris Cillizza.
"The best debaters are those who don't look like they rehearsed their one-liners thousands of times, and who know how to demonstrate command of the issues without being the annoying kid from class who always raised their hand to every question," Tracy Sefl, a former advisor to a Clinton super PAC, told USA Today.
What's Biden's deal? Draft Biden, the super PAC urging Biden to run for president, released a second ad on Tuesday, featuring a prior speech in which Biden said, "You never quit on America. And you deserve a president who will never quit on you."
It's just hours before the debate, though, and Biden has yet to make an announcement or drop any further hints as to whether he plans to join the race. Biden is now expected to skip this one, after people close to him recently told CNN that he doesn't feel pressure to participate in the first debate.