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

Alexander Tamargo/Getty

After a month-long pause, the Democratic presidential debate season will resume tonight, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders facing off at 9 pm Eastern. The debate will air on CNN and be streamed on CNN.com.

Though the candidates had previously agreed to add a new debate in April to the calendar, the exact details of where and when the event would take place were the subject of tense and often petty negotiations between the campaigns earlier this month.

But eventually an agreement was reached — the debate will be in Brooklyn tonight. Which means it's five days before New York's primary, the second-biggest Democratic contest, in which 247 delegates will be at stake.

What to expect at tonight's Democratic debate

From a horse-race perspective, the basic state of the Democratic primary has been the same since Super Tuesday on March 1.

Back then, Clinton built up a lead of about 200 pledged delegates, mainly from landslide wins in Southern states. The race has had its ups and downs since, but the current delegate count shows the margin is essentially the same today — Sanders trails Clinton by 216 pledged delegates, with the clock ticking away.

And the Democrats' voting rules, which allot all primary delegates proportionally rather than allowing any winner-take-all bonanzas, make it extremely difficult for Sanders to catch up. Indeed, if the demographic and geographic voting patterns so far continue to hold, Sanders will lose, and many political elites already believe the race is over.

So it will be interesting to see how Sanders handles tonight's debate. It's possible he could use this national airtime to draw a sharper contrast with Clinton than ever on issues like fundraising and her speaking fees, in hopes of shaking up the dynamics of the race and pulling off a shocking upset in New York next week. But he could also follow the same basic strategy he's been following so far — drawing contrasts that are, for the most part, issues-focused and respectful, so he doesn't damage Clinton too much before the general election.

As for Clinton, she's recently been focusing on attacking Sanders on gun control, one of the few issues on which she has a more liberal record than he does. Her newest talking point is that guns purchased in Vermont are disproportionately used to kill New Yorkers. That's a critique that seems absurd to some fact-checkers given Vermont's small size, but Clinton believes it's an effective attack on Sanders — we'll see if she mentions it tonight.

How to watch:

When: 9 pm Eastern

Where: Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York

TV: CNN

Online: A live stream will be available at CNN.com