Dem primary debate, night two: Two grandpas enter, one grandpa leaves

9 p.m. ET on NBC. The anticipation couldn’t be any higher: Statler versus Waldorf for all the marbles.

Last night was the undercard debate. This one has most of the top tier, excluding Elizabeth Warren. The line-up:

Joe Biden
Bernie Sanders
Kamala Harris
Pete Buttigieg
Kirsten Gillibrand
John Hickenlooper
Michael Bennet
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang
Eric Swalwell

Biden and Bernie on the same stage, prosecuting the respective cases for centrist neoliberalism and balls-out socialism, is just what NBC wanted. The question for Bernie: Does he focus most of his attacks tonight on Biden or on Elizabeth Warren, the more immediate threat to his candidacy? There’s a strategic argument for both. Beating up Biden might help him with both the center and the left, as lefties will relish watching Uncle Joe get called out for his heresies against progress and centrists might be hearing certain criticisms of Biden for the first time. But weakening Biden now might merely create space for the surging Warren, someone with more appeal to the center than Bernie has. Sanders needs to draw a contrast with her. Presumably he’ll start with their student-loan forgiveness plans, since Bernie’s is (foolishly and regressively) even more generous than hers is.

For Harris and especially Buttigieg, the task is simpler. Do well enough to prove that you belong in the top tier. Harris’s place there is probably secure since she remains a threat to take off with black voters, which would make her a strong contender for the nomination. She’ll come after Biden tonight for his comments about being chummy with segregationists in the Senate and his work on the 1990s crime bill. Buttigieg is apt to target Sanders — and maybe Warren — since his base thus far has overlapped with theirs, namely, young white progressives. Presumably he’ll look for a way to introduce age into the conversation. But he’s ripe for attacks from Biden and Harris on his racial record in South Bend after all the heat he took this past week when local PD shot a black resident.

As for Gillibrand, God only knows what her strategy is. I expect she’ll go after someone, probably Biden, for being insensitive to women, as that might help her marginally with both the center and left. Hickenlooper or Bennet could play a surprisingly large role tonight since each has positioned himself as a proud centrist/capitalist. Attacking Bernie is their chance to get a look from Biden voters.

As for the rest, I can’t imagine Swalwell having a “moment” unless it’s an embarrassing one, the odds of which are high. And Williamson and Yang are total wild cards, the former because of her notoriety among New Agers, the latter because of his outside-the-box core proposal for a universal basic income. If any candidate onstage can steer this debate in an unexpected direction, it’s them.

Viewing options: As was true last night, the events are livestreaming at, on the NBC News Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages, and on the NBC News mobile app. Here’s the Twitter widget for live reaction from worthy commentators. Exit question: Will Pelosi’s cave on the border-funding bill this afternoon force immigration front and center tonight? Democrats do not want to delve deeply into that issue, especially the guy who served as VP to a president who deported many more people than the left in 2019 seems comfortable with.