2020 Watch: Can Warren change the narrative?

Democratic presidential candidates who gather to debate in Los Angeles on Thursday will have extra competition for attention

NEW YORK -- Presidential politics move fast. What we're watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:

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Days to Iowa caucuses: 49

Days to general election: 323

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THE NARRATIVE

It's the week before Christmas, and major developments are expected in the coming days on impeachment and trade. Meantime, a cloud of uncertainty thickens as Democrats prepare for a sixth and final debate of the year, which may not even happen. In the heart of the holiday season, however, it's unclear how many voters are paying attention.

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THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who will watch the debate (if there is one)?

A debate process that featured 20 Democrats on stage six months ago has effectively cut the field to just seven who qualified for Thursday night's affair in Los Angeles. The smaller group could make for a more substantive conversation, but there is reason to believe many voters may miss it. The debate is scheduled for six days before Christmas, and even if the holiday isn't a factor, viewership has already fallen in every debate from a peak of an estimated 27 million back in June to less than 8 million last month. Of course, the debate may not happen at all. A labor dispute might force participants to cross a picket line to enter the venue, and all seven candidates have said that's something they won't do.

How will impeachment politics evolve?

The political world should get new clues about how the Democrats' impeachment quest will impact the presidential race later this week when the full House takes up the historic measure. The messaging war is already raging in battlegrounds across the country, while the timing of the expected Senate trial could have a direct impact on the candidates' ability to campaign. Don't forget that two of the four top-tier candidates — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — would be jurors. President Donald Trump may be feeling optimistic about the politics of impeachment, but polls consistently show more than 4 in 10 voters support his removal from office. That may not be a majority of the electorate, but it's a remarkably high number that no Republican candidate, including the president himself, should feel good about.

Can Warren change the narrative?

Sixty-two days have passed since the Ohio debate in which Warren struggled to defend the cost of her “Medicare for All” plan. She still hasn't found an answer. Those close to Warren are hopeful that she can move the conversation away from her evolving health care position and toward her rivals' connections to Wall Street donors. It won't be easy — with or without a debate. But if the Massachusetts senator can't find an effective message on a key policy priority in a Democratic debate, it's reasonable to wonder how she would fare on the debate stage with Trump.

Buttigieg was forced to embrace transparency. Can he handle the questions that follow?

Over just the last week, Buttigieg opened his fundraising events to the press, shared his client list from his former employer, the consulting firm McKinsey, and released the names of his bundlers. Transparency in politics is to be commended, but if ever there was a time that Buttigieg should expect pointed questions about his connections to corporate America, this is it. The intensity of Warren's and Sanders' focus on Buttigieg's connections will help determine if the relatively small protest movement that tracked his New York fundraising tour last week grows or not.

Is lack of diversity a sign of larger problem for Democrats?

It's no secret that Democrats need to generate higher minority turnout to win in 2020. So it should be cause for concern that in a historically diverse Democratic field, not a single African American or Hispanic candidate qualified for this week's debate. The businessman Andrew Yang will be the only non-white candidate on stage. It could be that Trump is the only motivator that minority voters need in 2020. But Democrats seem to be missing a big opportunity to showcase their diversity at a critical moment.

Joe Biden seems to have found his footing. Can he keep it?

His debate performances have been uneven. He has struggled to excite voters. And his fundraising has been underwhelming. Yet Biden enters the week on relatively solid footing, having used an Iowa bus tour to connect with early state voters on a deeper level as his Democratic rivals tear each other down. It'll be hard to change the narrative this week as the political world focuses elsewhere, which should be good news for Biden — as long as he avoids trouble on the debate stage.

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THE FINAL THOUGHT

With major impeachment news consuming Washington and the holiday haze setting in, it's unlikely that anything will change the trajectory of the Democratic primary this week. That's bad news for Warren, and perhaps the progressive wing of the party in general, as they appear to have lost momentum in the broader fight for the direction of the party. Warren's nod to the middle on Medicare for All, which was a litmus test for all Democrats not long ago, has been remarkable.

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2020 Watch runs every Monday and provides a look at the week ahead in the 2020 election.

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Follow Peoples at https://twitter.com/sppeoples

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