MWC’s Frank Donatelli Details Measures of Success for first 2020 Democratic Primary Debates

June 26, 2019

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The twenty Democratic nomination candidates will kick off two nights of primary debates on June 26, with ten candidates debating the first night, and the remaining ten debating on June 27. With limited speaking time, it will be difficult to keep score in any traditional sense.

McGuireWoods Consulting senior advisor, Frank Donatelli, detailed four ways to measure the success of candidates in a June 26 opinion piece for Newsweek.


With so many candidates, each will only receive ten minutes or so of speaking time. Some candidates will have already made and tested applause lines to try and make a lasting impression.

“One way for candidates on the bottom rung to gain some traction is to utter a clever or even outrageous comment that gets replayed multiple times after the debate ends,” Donatelli said. “Such breakthrough comments could bring a trailing candidate badly needed notoriety and attention.”


All of the candidates are competing for first place.

“Candidates who want to move forward need to find motivated supporters who will work for, donate to, turn out and vote for their candidacy,” said Donatelli. “That means breaking into a pool of voters that share common ideological, background or demographic characteristics.”

There are several voter “lanes” in the Democratic party, and Donatelli added, the successful candidate will focus on specific messages to important groups of Democratic voters.


Candidates have taken different approaches to responding to or talking about President Trump.

“This is more about attitude and rhetoric than policy,” Donatelli noted. “But it will be important to see how each candidate speaks about the incumbent president.”


Polls show that Democratic voters want a nominee who can win the election. Donatelli noted that each candidate must speak about that goal and how they will achieve it.

“Candidates who focus on catchy rhetoric, key voter blocs, a strong anti-incumbent message and a clear strategy for victory will have been the real winners of this first encounter,” he said.