AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Bernie Sanders became a leading hero of the left in 2016. Back then, he was running for president on a platform far more sweeping than other Democrats, like Hillary Clinton. In the 2020 campaign, he's got company - perhaps none closer than Elizabeth Warren. Tonight, voters get to see both of these progressive candidates in direct contrast, side by side, at the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is here.
Hey there, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey.
CORNISH: And we also have NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.
Hey there, Domenico. Can you hear me?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.
CORNISH: So I just mentioned Warren and Sanders. Who else is onstage tonight, Domenico?
MONTANARO: You've got South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke from Texas, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Governor Steve Bullock of Montana, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland and, finally, spiritualist and author Marianne Williamson - so a crowded pack of candidates, certainly.
And a couple notes about the field is the first time in the lineup for Bullock, who believes Democrats need to appeal to conservative and rural voters. And you'll notice that - by random draw that we've got - even though the most diverse field in history for Democrats, there will be no candidates of color onstage tonight. And how they talk about race is going to be really interesting, considering President Trump continues to put race at the center of the national conversation.
CORNISH: Right. And it actually came up in the first debate for these Democrats, right? Asma, you've been out on the campaign trail. How have the candidates been handling racial issues?
KHALID: I would say they were talking about race and racial justice rather explicitly when it comes to specific public policy proposals they're putting forth, you know, whether that is more money for historically black colleges or more money for minority entrepreneurs. But it's also in their rhetoric. And part of this is, you know, no doubt because of the conversation that President Trump has created.
But I will say we're hearing this, you know, when they're speaking to audiences like the NAACP or the Urban League, but you also get the sense, when you look at surveys, that this is something increasingly more that white voters in the Democratic Party also want to hear about.
CORNISH: Asma, I also want to ask you specifically about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As we mentioned, this is the first time we're going to see them kind of side by side in this format. What might voters learn about the differences between them?
KHALID: Well, their positions on a whole host of issues are rather similar, whether we're talking about "Medicare for All" or affordable college. I would say that stylistically will be the big thing that we'll see the difference of. Bernie Sanders has a tendency to speak in somewhat lofty theoretical goals, and Elizabeth Warren does tend to offer a little bit more specifics. You know, when she'll talk about affordable housing, she'll talk about the fact that she wants, say, 3.2 million more housing units. I think that's the big difference we'll see - is style and what voters prefer because when we talk about policies, there's a lot of similarities.
MONTANARO: And the question, really, is with both of them - is just how far they would go. You know, the ideological split here is that Sanders is fine taking on the moniker of being a democratic socialist. Warren will say she's a capitalist. She wants big structural change for the economy. But overall, this is going to highlight how the progressives are tugging at the center of the party and moving it left.
CORNISH: Is there going to be some pushback on that front? You've got former Vice President Joe Biden not on this stage tonight. So what might this look like?
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, you could see some of those moderates, like Klobuchar or Hickenlooper or Bullock, take their shots at what they see as too liberal for a direction of the party. And Klobuchar, after the last debate, in fact, said that she'd pulled her punches because it was the first debate. And I bet that won't happen again tonight.
CORNISH: Asma, finally, I just want to ask you about how much of a shadow you think Joe Biden will cast over this first round of the debate.
KHALID: Well, I'm really interested to see that because though he will not be on the stage, I think everyone is very clear about the momentum that he has and the popularity he has in the Democratic Party. And we have both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for different reasons, whether it's Medicare for All or financial issues, who have been extremely critical of Joe Biden. And so I do think that he - while he will not be onstage, he will loom large onstage tonight.
MONTANARO: And by the way, no hand raising tonight. So some of those more liberal policies that we saw earlier - some of the Democrats want to get away from having to commit to those.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Asma Khalid and Domenico Montanaro in Detroit for tonight's first round of the Democratic presidential debate. Thanks, you two.
KHALID: You're welcome.
MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.