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Democratic debate 2016: start time, schedule, and what to expect

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Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The next Democratic debate is tonight at 9 pm Eastern. It will take place in Milwaukee and will air on PBS. And an online live stream will be available at YouTube.

It's only been a week since the most recent Democratic debate, but a lot has changed since then — specifically, Bernie Sanders won a dramatic 22-point landslide victory in the New Hampshire primary, which made it unmistakably clear that Hillary Clinton is facing a very serious challenge for the nomination.

Now, the two candidates will face off in their final debate before the February 20 Nevada Democratic caucuses, the February 27 South Carolina Democratic primary, and the March 1 "SEC primary" in which many Southern states and a few non-Southern ones will go to the polls. So the stakes are high.

What to expect at the sixth Democratic debate

The biggest question facing Sanders's campaign going forward is whether he can broaden his appeal beyond white Democrats. And since states with sizable black and Hispanic populations are next on the primary calendar, expect that question to be a major focus of tonight's debate.

Indeed, in recent days, Hillary Clinton's allies have been stoking doubts about Sanders's credibility on racial issues. "Sanders has been missing in action on issues of importance to the African American community" such as gun control, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on a recent conference call, according to Politico's Annie Karni.

Sanders's allies, though, think that his economics-focused message will resonate with nonwhite voters. "Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is going to help mostly women, people of color, and low-income people. When you look at who’s on student debt, clearly a lot of white students have it, but proportionately a lot of black and brown voters have more," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) told me. "The truth is that in America we have race and we have class, but they’re separate things that overlap a lot."

Now, don't expect a complete overhaul of Sanders's rhetoric. He believes his message has been a winner so far, and he's stuck with it so long — for decades, really — that he certainly won't be transforming it anytime soon. But expect topics like police violence, gun control, and systemic racism to get more airtime tonight than they've gotten in previous debates.

Also expect electability to come up. With Sanders on the rise, Clinton will increasingly make the case to Democrats that this "democratic socialist" will have a whole lot of trouble beating the Republicans in the fall. And Sanders will have to convince the party's more pragmatic voters to that it's worth taking a chance on him.

How to watch

When: 9 pm Eastern

Where: University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee


Online: An online live stream will be available.

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