It’s all set. Now all eyes will be on Miami as our city hosts the season’s first Democratic presidential primary debates.
A record 20 contenders will take the stage over two days in what will be the first real opportunity for many candidates to make their case on a national stage.
It is fitting that the Democratic National Committee chose South Florida for this critical moment in our nation’s electoral history. As a pivotal state in every presidential election, we want to hear the candidates’ thoughtful ideas and practical proposals addressing the most critical issues facing our region, nation and the world, among them:
• How climate change and the rising sea will impact South Florida more immediately and severely than many other parts of the country. Candidates should be prepared to detail short- and long-term solutions for their Florida audience, they should offer creative ideas that reveal they understand what’s at stake for us.
• Over the past two years, America’s immigration policies have ranged from confusing to horrifying. Homestead is home to a controversial unaccompanied immigrant child detention center. Candidates must share clear, just and comprehensive policies that are not anathema to our national values. The debate will serve its purpose if candidates are pressed to describe both the purpose and the substance of their immigration policies, along with the strategies they intend to use to enact them.
• Florida has been the site of two recent horrific mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, where 17 students and staff were murdered, and the Pulse nightclub shooting, where 49 people died and 53 wounded in Orlando.
Yet the vigorous gun-control movement that these incidents reignited seems to have quieted. We will look to the candidates for clear statements about gun ownership and public safety in Florida and across the country.
Here’s some advice for all candidates. None of these issues can be explained away with soundbites. If you want to hold our country’s highest office, you must go beyond platitudes. But it’s not all substance. For the first time, the candidate’s spunk, wits and nerve will be on display at these debates. Those who pull away from the pack with debate grit, will be best prepare to walk into the lion’s den when they face President Trump.
This is an extraordinary moment in our political history. The stakes have arguably never been higher, the political atmosphere never more fraught. The debates should start to reveal each candidate’s understanding of executive power and their plans for using it on a national scale. If this proves easier for some candidates than others, that’s part of the weeding-out process. And there’s a lot of weeding out to be done.
The first night will pit Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
The second night offers up former Vice President Joe Biden; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
While the nation’s eyes will be on South Florida, the moderators may have a national focus. But we hope they remember that hosting debates in different parts of the country affords an opportunity to dig in on regional issues.
At two hours each, even with 10 candidates on stage, their should be time to let South Florida help set the tone for the coming heated campaign.