Using the same methodology that generally gave Donald Trump the central position in debates during the crowded 2016 Republican presidential-nomination contest, NBC has determined the stage assignments for the 20 Democratic candidates who will gather in Miami next week for two nights of debates:
NBC on Tuesday announced the candidate positions on the stage for the two-night event on June 26 and 27, and it will feature the contenders who’ve been leading in the polls in the middle of the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
That means on night one, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas will be in the middle, while night two will feature former Vice-President Biden and Sanders, the Vermont senator, standing side by side at center stage.
You might initially be surprised to see O’Rourke with more favorable stage positioning than Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, who are leading him in most national and state polls. But the lottery that the Democratic National Committee conducted has landed Mayor Pete and Senator Harris on night two along with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who will hold the center-stage positions. So if this sort of thing really matters, Beto got doubly lucky: getting into a debate less crowded with big names and winning that center-stage spot.
On night one, Warren and O’Rourke will be flanked, respectively, by Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; the farther reaches will be held by Bill de Blasio and John Delaney. On night two, Biden will be next to Buttigieg, with Harris next to Sanders. That’s four of the five top-polling candidates in a cluster. Marianne Williamson and Eric Swalwell will be at the ends of the line.
It’s unclear how much stage placement really matters in these events. Typically, the number of questions directed to candidates, which often varies, is more important than where they appear in distant shots of the stage. Proximity can matter, though, if candidates get the opportunity to mix it up. But at this point, the lesser-known presidential aspirants need all the free camera time they can get, so if you see some of them leaning toward the center, don’t be surprised.