Seven Democratic presidential hopefuls will take the stage at Loyola Marymount University Thursday evening for a debate that could be hard-pressed to match the drama that occurred in the weeks leading up to the gathering, thanks to union disputes that threatened to derail the event.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are all scheduled to participate in the debate at LMU’s Gersten Pavilion.
PBS NewsHour and Politico will host the event, the sixth Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debate of the campaign. PBS NewsHour anchor/managing editor Judy Woodruff, Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, NewsHour senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz and White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor will serve as moderators.
The debate will be shown live on PBS stations nationwide and simulcast on NPR and Westwood One. It will also be simulcast live on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Espanol, and live-streamed on CNN.com and on PBS and Politico online and social media platforms.
The highest-polling candidates will be given center positions on stage, meaning the left-to-right order of the candidates will be Yang, Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar and Steyer. With only seven participants, the event will have the smallest field of candidates on stage of any of the Democratic debates thus far.
Biden, Warren and Sanders have been generally maintaining their front-runner status throughout the campaign, making them potential targets during Thursday’s debate from the lower-polling candidates who will be looking to make in-roads with voters as the initial round of primary balloting approaches.
The debate will come one day after the House impeachment vote on President Donald Trump, making that an expected popular topic during the event — along with touchstone issues such as health care and immigration.
But viewers can also anticipate discussion of unions and workers’ rights, in light of a pair of labor disputes that nearly prevented the debate from even happening.
The debate was originally scheduled to be held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, but it was moved to LMU because candidates balked at going to the campus because of a drawn-out labor dispute involving AFSCME Local 3299, a union representing more than 25,000 University of California service and patient technical care workers.
With candidates vowing not to attend, UCLA stepped aside as the host, forcing debate organizers to find an alternate site. LMU stepped up to the plate and debate planning resumed without a hitch — until last week, when contract negotiations stalled for unionized food-service workers at the campus employed by a private contractor, Sodexo.
The dispute involved only about 150 workers, but all seven Democratic candidates vowed not to cross a union picket line, again leaving the debate in doubt with just days to spare. DNC Chairman Tom Perez quickly began working the phones, talking to UNITE HERE Local 11 union leaders, Sodexo officials and LMU administrators.
After marathon talks that stretched into Monday night, the union and Sodexo announced a tentative contract agreement Tuesday morning, clearing the way for the debate to go ahead as planned.
Warren is the most likely candidate to bring up the 11th-hour dispute, since she was the first candidate to publicly speak in support of UNITE HERE last week and vow to skip the debate. She was also the only candidate to appear at a news conference with Perez and union leaders on Tuesday announcing the contract agreement.
Viewing parties are planned for six sites in Los Angeles County:
— The Abbey, 692 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood;
— Blackbird House, 10600 Virginia Ave., Culver City;
— Hyperion Public, 2538 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake;
— 111 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica;
— 1027 Westwood Blvd., Westwood;
— 13020 Pacific Promenade, Playa Vista.
The party at Blackbird House is organized by the Steyer campaign, the one at 111 Santa Monica Blvd. by the Warren campaign and the one at 13020 Pacific Promenade by the Sanders campaign.