Las Vegas Will Shine in the Political Spotlight

First Democratic debate of 2015 is a rehearsal for next fall’s prez showdown 

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

While the race for the Republican presidential nomination has already featured two highly rated prime-time debates, an already-winnowing field of candidates and the strident ascendancy of Donald Trump, the Democrats have been relatively sedate. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a surprising roadblock to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trail to the nomination, as is the potential candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden. The race has so far featured a sometimes-unseemly debate about debates—specifically, their number and timing. The Democratic National Committee has scheduled only six debates before next April, a stark reduction from the 26 Democratic debates from April 2007 to April 2008.

While the Republicans are soaking in early media attention, some Democrats have groused that the last two scheduled debates this year are on weekends (when fewer viewers are watching). One is even on the weekend between the end of Hanukkah and Christmas, when even fewer are attuned to the political landscape. Whether more staged opportunities to knock off the frontrunner are scheduled is anyone’s guess.

But one thing we do know: At 6 p.m. October 13 at the Wynn in Las Vegas, CNN will dispense with its around-the-clock Trump coverage. For the first time Clinton and others seeking the Democratic nomination will stand together on the same stage for two hours in prime time and answer unscripted questions. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate. The network’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN en Español anchor Juan Carlos Lopez will ask additional questions, and anchor Don Lemon will present questions to the candidates submitted via Facebook users.

Things we don’t know? The number of times “Nevada” will be mispronounced and who will be the first candidate to stoop to using a turn of the phrase, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” And more seriously, how Clinton will reply to vexing email accusations; how long Sanders will weather the word “socialist” attached to his name; whether the others will prove they belong on the big stage; and whether anybody besides media darling Sanders will project authenticity (or at least fake it for two hours) in the most contrived circumstances devised.

Las Vegas will again be in the political spotlight December 15 when Republican contenders debate here and October 19, 2016, when the Thomas & Mack Center hosts the last presidential debate before the general election. To host three debates is some consolation for a city that sought to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. Although that bid was withdrawn, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that the 2016 debate will generate media exposure worth more than $50 million, and the Las Vegas area will see a direct economic impact of $6 million.

The presidential candidates will likely have somewhat less flamboyant entourages, and there won’t be the pay-per-view sizzle of, say, the Pacquiao-Mayweather “Fight of the Century” earlier this year. But with each debate the city is sure to garner positive national media attention as a place to do serious business and a venue for civil discourse, or whatever passes for it these days.

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