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What to Know About the 2019 Democratic Debate: Start Time, Schedule, Format

If you’ve ever been to a crowded dance audition or a nightclub where everyone is fighting to be noticed, you’ve got the picture for the 2019 Democratic debates on Wednesday, June 26, and Thursday, June 27.

Twenty of the top 2020 Democratic candidates who’ve raised money from the most donors and polled the highest will spar in Miami, will all be trying to stand out and win a chance to challenge President Donald Trump next year. Expect power colors and snappy quotes in both two-hour events that will force candidates to make their points succinctly.

“They’re going to have to bust a move,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said of the each of the candidates competing against frontrunner Joe Biden, the former vice president. “Obviously, Biden wants to come out where he started and unscathed, and anybody with 3% or below, it’s a fight for survival for raising money.”

Here’s what you should know before you watch the 2019 Democratic debates:

What time does the 2019 Democratic debate start?

Both nights of the epic 2019 Democratic showdown are slated for 9-11 p.m. E.T.

Where will the debates take place?

The debates will be held at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, a 90-year-old Art Deco space that holds 2,200.

Which candidates will debate on Wednesday night?

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Candidates participating in the first night of the 2019 Democratic debates on June 26 in Miami, Fla.Getty Images (8); Reuters (2)

Night one stands out because only one of the candidates polling in the top five—U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—will be in the lineup.

The night one full chorus line of candidates will be, left to right: Bill de Blasio, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and former U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat from Maryland.

Wednesday’s version will feature a spread of Democratic hopefuls that includes a larger proportion of lesser-knowns. You can be sure each candidate will be scrambling to get across their signature ideas in the speediest, most quotable ways possible.

“That’s what they’re all rehearsing this week,” said Ed Kilgore, veteran Democratic analyst and political columnist for New York Magazine.

For people having a hard time keeping track with the large field, Wednesday’s first debate presents an opportunity, one expert said.

“I think this is a chance for people to get to know some candidates and get to know some of the less visible candidates,” said Rebecca Katz, a veteran Democratic strategist.

Which candidates will debate on Thursday night?

Presidential Candidates Night 2
Candidates participating in the second night of the 2019 Democratic debates on June 27 in Miami, Fla. Getty images (10)

The lineup of candidates debating on Thursday night include: Joe Biden, Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang.

For those who are taking copious notes and worried all this is just too much information, strategist Katz says this is not the way to view the crowded debates. Night one will present an opportunity not only for the confused public, but also for the presidential hopefuls, while night two might get too crowded.

“I think the candidates on night one will have a much easier chance to lay out their agendas than the folks who are going on night two,” Katz said. “There are a lot of heavy hitters on night two.”

Who are the debate moderators?

NBC News will host the debate, and Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo and NBC News, Chuck Todd of NBC News and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC will share moderating duties.

How were the candidates for each night picked?

NBC picked the candidates for each night through a drawing a week and a half ago. Early on, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said that if the number of candidates qualifying to debate by virtue of fundraising became too large, the debate would be spread over two nights.

What is the debate format?

Each night of the debate has been set up so that higher polling candidates are at the center of the stage moving out to the lowest polling candidates at the ends. Ten candidates will go toe-to-toe each night.

On night one, Warren will share center stage with former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas. The ends will be held up by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, who has been polling at a statistical zero in some places, and Delaney.

On night two, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders share the center, with Marianne Williamson and Eric Swalwell holding up the sides.

Who will be in the audience?

The 2019 Democratic Debate audience will be made up of guests of the 2020 candidates, people who contacted the Democratic National Committee through its website, pundits, and reporters. If you’re not one of those who will be there in person, you can watch the debates live on NBC News, MSNBC, or Telemundo, or view a free online live stream across all of NBC News’ and Telemundo’s digital platforms.

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