WASHINGTON -- Not every 2020 Democratic hopeful will get to go head to head with front-runner Joe Biden when the candidates meet for their first debate in Miami later this month, but the former vice president will be on the stage with some formidable rivals, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The first night of the two-night debate, on June 26, will feature Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas.
Biden and the other leading candidates will appear on the second night, June 27, announced NBC, which is hosting the debate.
NBC News and Telemundo held a lottery Friday afternoon to determine who will get to tangle with whom among the 20 candidates qualified to be on the debate stage.
Each night, a pack of lesser-known candidates will share the stage with the leaders, hoping the event becomes an opportunity to break out from the scrum and ascend in national polls.
It's a high hurdle.
Even with the event broken into two nights, with two hours each night, each candidate will only get a few minutes to speak. Biden and others with strong polling numbers, including Sanders and Warren, may be able to cruise through the night sticking to tested talking points and sound bites. The candidates well behind in the polls will have few opportunities to throw the leaders off their game plans and create their own viral moments.
The lineup was chosen randomly, with the names of candidates written on pieces of paper that were folded, put into a box and drawn out blindly while representatives of each of the campaigns watched.
But the results nonetheless give an advantage to some candidates. Several of Biden's top-tier rivals, who are eager to chip into his lead, landed alongside him. Sanders, who is polling in second place in many national surveys, will have an opportunity to highlight Biden's moderation and reluctance to embrace progressive policies, including universal healthcare and free four-year public college.
Harris' and Buttigieg's presence on the stage will call attention to the fact that both Biden and Sanders are white men in their mid-70s, with policy ideas that date back years.