Watch the Democratic presidential debates on CNN and CNNGo at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, July 30, and Wednesday, July 31.
1. Toe-to-toe or side-by-side? Warren and Sanders share the stage
2. O'Rourke attempts to rescue his chances
O'Rourke roared into the campaign with a massive first-quarter fundraising haul and the affection of Democrats around the country following his energetic and innovative, albeit unsuccessful, Senate campaign.
How to accomplish this without risking his affair, optimistic brand wants to be a challenge – and remains a mystery. He is ideologically to the left of the other low-polling candidate onstage, but to the right of Sanders and Warren, most notably on health care.
O'Rourke could choose to zero in on Buttigieg, with whom he saves a bit over the last few weeks. But his most intense recent rhetoric has focused on President Donald Trump. With Trump's continued racist attacks on members of Congress, the Texan was able to try his barbs at the White House – something no Democrat wants to hold against him.
3. The Progressive Platform on Trial
Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college, student debt forgiveness, stricter financial regulation, new taxes on the most prosperous Americans, and all around the world intense scrutiny Tuesday night.
The Sanders mainstreamed during his 2016 presidential run and Warren has spent years advocating for the same.
Tuesday night, with Sanders and Warren (literally) center stage, could turn into a referendum on the way Democrats take out their general election showdown with Trump.
The arguments are familiar by now. Moderates like Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Klobuchar, Hickenlooper and Delaney. Warren and Sanders argues that embracing the grassroots and turning them on is the way to win. And Buttigieg and O'Rourke, their views on the question, are pushing to make a more cautious move to the left.
The fireworks, then, could come when the Sanders and Warren, who are trying to poke holes in their agenda and convince Democrats that their path is doomed. Those broadsides seek to be equal and opposite force – embracing the fight as the core to the progressives.
It's a debate-within-the-debate both Warren and Sanders wants to be glad to take on. Given the state of the horse race, there is likely to be jockeying among the moderate to the harshest, or most memorable, blow. Their risk: drowning each other out. Their opportunity: Emerge as a Moderate Alternative to Former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden figures to have his hands full on two, but he wants to be present – as conjured up by his rivals – on Tuesday, especially when it comes to health care.
Biden's absence is less of a conundrum for the rest of the field, which is closer to his ideological but far off in the polls. For those candidates, the goal will be to offer a similar policy agenda.
. 5 Pete Buttigieg: Can he take the next step?
Buttigieg's candidacy is at a crossroads. [The South Bend mayor is printing cash, but his embrace of big dollars donates to support his grassroots support.]
Despite the strong fundraising numbers, he's mostly seen his polling flatten out.
Buttigieg's politics do not fit neatly into.
Buttigieg's politics do not fit into it The Democratic Party's progressive-moderate-centrist divisions. He has also rejected the most popular line of attack against Sanders, that the Vermont Senator's Democratic Socialism would be used against the Whole Party. Buttigieg's rationale is that Republicans wants to lodge those charges against the nominee whomever it is, so the wiser path is, as I said recently in Iowa, to "just do what we think is right, make the case for it, and then let (the GOP) Do What They Want. "
Buttigieg wants his car to be out of his teens.
Buttigieg wants to have his opportunity to be carve out on Tuesday to make his generational argument for change – and why he's the one to deliver it. Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris,
Some of Buttigieg's most animating moments have come when he discusses his own faith and how did he live his worldview. Those moments have distinguished themselves from the rest of the Democratic field.
6. Can Steve Bullock bust the governors' slump?
There will be a new face on the stage over these next 48 hours: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Bullock's late entry into the race saw him closed out of the Miami debates, but he's getting ready for the Detroit stage and will, on Tuesday night, be given his introduction to a national audience of Democratic voters.
Whether that record will be enough to stir up the Democratic primary. Hickenlooper, a popular former governor from another Western state, has made Bullock's task that much more difficult.
All but a few minutes before the first ballots are cast, is a moment – that one. Bullock is no firebreather, further complicating the task, so expect him to lean heavily on his status in Montana and hope that he will come back to wanting to know more.