Everything You Wanted to Know About the 9th Democratic Debate But Were Afraid to Google

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Democratic Presidential Debate in Vegas
The contenders. Photo: Brian Cahn/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will throw down in an all-out, knock-down, bare-knuckle debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Thursday night. The Democratic presidential hopefuls have sparred eight times already, but never before have they had this much incentive to pander to New Yorkers. Bernie from Brooklyn and Hillary from “Bestchester” will make their closing arguments to Empire State voters five days ahead of New York’s April 19 primary. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare yourself for tonight’s thrilling oratorical action.

What time is this thing happening, and on which channel?
The debate will air on CNN and Time Warner Cable’s NY1 starting at 9 p.m. EDT. If you live off the internet alone, fear not: The debate can also be livestreamed at CNN.com.

Has anything changed since the last time these two met?
Quite a bit, actually. Six days after Clinton and Sanders last squared off in Miami, the Democratic front-runner swept five primaries, including three in the Midwest, where the democratic socialist had hopes of re-creating his Michigan miracle. For a while, all went quiet, Clinton turned her fire on Donald Trump, and Sanders focused on fund-raising emails. But then the campaign turned West, a small bird landed on Sanders’s podium, and he won eight of the nine contests held since late March.

Now Sanders has a path to the nomination again — if you squint real hard, ignore all polls of northeastern states, and say “the superdelegates will feel the Bern” three times while clicking your heels.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Sure. Point is, things got close enough to get Clinton sweating about the possibility of somehow losing New York — the state where she served as senator for eight years and that her family and “global initiative” call home. Last week, the front-runner went on the offensive, pursuing a strategy that CNN summarized as “disqualify him, defeat him, unite the party later.”

Clinton proceeded to do the media rounds, questioning Sanders’s party loyalty, understanding of financial reform, and, without quite saying it, his qualifications for the Oval Office. In response, Sanders went on an ill-advised rant about how any big money-courting, Iraq War–approving, trade-deal-supporting moderate isn’t “qualified to be president.”

Pearls were clutched. Scolding op-eds were written. Clinton assured Sanders that she likes him better than the pseudo-fascist atop the Republican field. Sanders said that Clinton was, of course, qualified. Peace reigned throughout the land.

Except: Sanders is still pushing his narrative that Clinton’s integrity is compromised by her campaign cash. And Clinton is still arguing that Sanders loves guns more than he loves the children at Newtown.

And then, at a rally in Washington Square Wednesday night, a Sanders surrogate told the 27,000-member crowd, “Medicare for all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores.”

So, things are still tense.

Gotcha. So, back to the debate: Who’ll be asking the questions?
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash will be joined by Errol Louis of NY1’s Inside City Hall.

Is there anything new to ask them about?
Sure. First, there are new “narrative questions.” Sanders will probably be asked to account for Not Qualifiedgate, an issue he may need to handle tenderly: Clinton is pretty popular among registered Democrats, and registered Democrats are the only people who can vote in next Tuesday’s primary. The Vermont senator will probably also be asked to get wonkish about financial reform. Sanders was widely criticized for not sounding like a talking white paper in an interview with the New York Daily News last week, which included some vague, tentative answers about his plan for breaking up the banks. Clinton turned those answers into an indictment of Sanders’s capacity to solve the problems of economic inequality that his campaign has so fervently decried.

As for Clinton, Politico reported Wednesday on some shadier aspects of her time as secretary of State. Specifically, Clinton expanded the use of “special government employees,” a status that allows State Department officials to receive private income. Among those special employees was an ex-fund-raiser who leveraged the position to lay the groundwork for a global consulting firm — with ties to someone named Bill Clinton. Anyhow, it’s one among many examples of how the Clintons’ private enterprises and public service have intertwined in eyebrow-raising fashion. It would be great to hear Clinton pressed on this subject, though it’s probably too complicated to summarize in a 15-second question.

Beyond narrative stuff, there are a bunch of issues that haven’t been discussed much at recent debates but have special salience in New York. Israel, for example. Sanders and Clinton seem to have the same basic policy toward the Jewish state — the two-state solution is good, settlement expansion is bad, the nation is an important ally that must be protected. But they voice those positions with decidedly different rhetoric. Most significantly, Sanders is willing to criticize Israel for using force “disproportionately” during the 2014 Gaza War, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 495 children. Clinton, on the other hand, has described such criticisms as a negation of Israel’s right to defend itself.

There’s also the matter of fracking policy. Over the past two weeks, Sanders has been touting his support for a national ban on fracking to the earthier residents of upstate New York. Clinton, meanwhile, supports greater regulation of natural-gas extraction but isn’t ready to tell regions that are prospering from the industry to cease and desist.

Will the debate matter?
Well, Sanders has to try to make it matter. Polls of the Empire State consistently show Clinton over 50 percent, with very few voters claiming to be undecided. The key for the Vermont senator will be to show that he can speak fluently on subjects beyond our nation’s gradual descent into neo-feudalism — something he hasn’t quite accomplished at any past debate. He’ll also need to find a way to tarnish Clinton’s image, without turning off voters via strident negativity.

As for the front-runner, as long as she doesn’t accidentally confess to murdering Vince Foster or ordering the attacks on the Benghazi embassy, she should be okay. But if she can unveil new, better answers to questions about her Goldman Sachs speeches and Iraq War vote, while imbuing her erudition on Wall Street reform with a little more populist passion, she’ll go a long way toward easing Democrats’ anxieties about the general election.

9th Democratic Debate: What You Need to Know