The first debate in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination is finally happening tonight — you can watch on CNN at 5:30
pm Pacific time — after two Republican debates that attracted monster-sized ratings
to watch the huge cast of characters on stage.
The Democratic debate will surely have a lot of interested viewers wanting to see Hillary Clinton, the former senator, Secretary of State and First Lady long considered the frontrunner, face off with her most noteworthy and unexpected adversary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic Socialist who's a hero to the liberal wing of the party.
Many viewers tuning in to the campaign for the first time, though, might wonder who those other dudes on stage are. They are running for the Democratic nomination, too. True story!
Here's a primer on the three lesser-known candidates:
A one-time rising star in the party as mayor of Baltimore and then governor of Maryland, O'Malley entered the race hoping to be a more progressive alternative to Clinton, only to see Sanders waltz in and suck up all the traditionally lefty support in the party, as well as the support of most young voters. Immigration reform is a big issue for him, as he supports providing deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. He also was banking on his efforts as mayor and governor in Maryland to fight crime and the drug trade in inner cities to make him a Democrat that could say he was tough on crime, but the Baltimore riots and cases and police brutality knocked him off that message early on.
Chafee came from a Republican family — his father was a Republican governor and senator from Rhode Island — and was elected as a Republican senator himself in 2000. He was consistently rated the least-conservative GOP senator when he was in D.C., and he eventually left the party and ran as an independent when he was elected governor of his home state in 2010. Even as a Republican, he supported same-sex marriage, abortion rights, higher taxes for the wealthy and higher minimum wages — you can understand why he split with his party. He also voted against using force to remove Saddam Hussein in 2002, opposing his party and President George W. Bush. His plans include fighting climate change, protecting a woman's right to choose, expanding health care and shrinking the military.
Webb is a former Virginia senator and decorated combat veteran, as well as a novelist, who got in the race to battle Clinton's apparent easy stroll to the nomination. He was against going into Iraq when he was in the Senate, but he is also critical of the recent nuclear deal with Iran. He wants the U.S. to act as a check on Chinese military expansion, has a focus on improving the country's criminal justice system, and wants to invest in the country's infrastructure, literally, but putting money toward repair and rebuilding of bridges and roads.
Will any of these three be the Democratic nominee? Probably not. But at the very least they might provide some good one-liners tonight as they try to take down the two leaders a couple notches and push themselves into the post-debate conversation.