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Biden, impeachment in spotlight for crowded Democratic debate

By AFP - Oct 16,2019 - Last updated at Oct 16,2019

WESTERVILLE, United States — Twelve Democrats square off Tuesday for a historically crowded presidential debate overshadowed by an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, who has dragged chief rival Joe Biden into the Ukraine crisis.

It is an extraordinary moment. Washington's impeachment brawl has dominated US politics for weeks and denied Democratic candidates the attention they crave ahead of what could be a pivotal showdown in the race to see who will face Trump in 2020.

Trump's July 25 phone call to his Ukrainian counterpart seeking help in investigating the Bidens, and the discredited charge by Trump that the former US vice president intervened in Ukraine to protect his son Hunter, has roiled the race and put Biden in the spotlight.

The debate at Ohio's Otterbein University features Biden, who is struggling to maintain front-runner status, rising-star progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren nipping at his heels and liberal Senator Bernie Sanders, eager to move on from a recent mild heart attack that raised questions about his fortitude.

Also on stage are South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke; entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Obama-era Cabinet member Julian Castro.

Each is seeking a breakout moment so their campaigns can maintain viability.

While debates are expected to help winnow the field ahead of the first votes in the nomination process, the Democrats have actually expanded from the 10 candidates in September's event to 12 Tuesday, the largest debate in modern US political history.


Guns blazing 


Two others who qualified are congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who had threatened a boycott arguing that the Democratic Party was trying to "hijack" the election process, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who for two years has sought Trump's impeachment.

The scandal over Trump's communications with Ukraine has engulfed the White House, and will surely colour the debate proceedings.

An embattled Trump has come out with guns blazing against Biden and his son Hunter, repeatedly claiming without merit that they are corrupt.

Biden could flip the attention to his advantage, convincing voters that Trump's quest for dirt shows that he's the Democrat the president fears most.

Biden has begun criticizing Trump more forcefully, tweeting late Monday that "Donald Trump is the most corrupt president in modern American history".

Early Tuesday, Hunter Biden, who once worked for a Ukrainian energy company, broke his silence, telling ABC News in an interview that while he may have exercised poor judgement in his business dealings in Ukraine and China, he broke no laws.

"Did I make a mistake based on some ethical lapse? Absolutely not," Biden, 49, insisted.

Democratic rivals may pounce on Biden to argue that his son’s international work had at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.


Capitalist, socialist 


The usual debate subjects are likely to be addressed, including health care, climate change, immigration, gun control and the economy.

Current events likely will play a major role in the evening, notably Trump’s controversial withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which critics say effectively green-lighted an invasion by neighbouring Turkey.

Warren, meanwhile, takes the stage as the candidate on the rise, having drawn even with Biden in recent weeks. She slipped back this week, however, with new polls showing Biden about 10 points ahead.

The 70-year-old senator’s campaign trail success raises the likelihood that debate rivals will go after her.

Sanders, a self-declared Democratic socialist, publicly distanced himself from his friend and fellow progressive for the first time on Sunday, saying there were “differences” between his outlook and Warren’s.

“Elizabeth I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I’m not,” he told ABC’s “This Week”.

Sanders, 78, is grappling with his own setback, a heart attack that put his health and age into question.

It tangentially raises concerns about Biden, who turns 77 next month and has been criticised for lacking vitality in debates.

Ohio voted twice for Barack Obama and then flipped to Trump in 2016. Democrats are targeting to take it back next year.


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