On Saturday, the second Democratic presidential debate will take place at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. If you've only watched the Republican debates so far, what you're going to see will look very, very different. On the GOP side of things, the presidential field is still egregiously overstuffed, with 15 total candidates in the running and pre-main-event undercard debates becoming the norm, rather than the exception. On the Democratic side, however, the list is much shorter.
The answer might surprise you if you've lost track of the news since the Democrats' first clash on Oct. 13. Only three candidates are left. With former Virginia senator Jim Webb dropping out, followed in short order by former senator and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, only Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley remain in the race. Those three will be facing off in Iowa next week.
For months, the Democratic Party was preparing for the possibility that Vice President Joe Biden would jump into the race, but he ruled out a run in October, saying "the window has closed." In other words, this looks to be it — we'll either be seeing Clinton, Sanders, or O'Malley claim the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia next July.
And as it stands now, it's overwhelmingly likely that it'll be one of those first two names. Clinton, needless to say, is the odds-on frontrunner thus far, possessing big leads in key battleground states like South Carolina, Florida, and Iowa, and recently having retaken the New Hampshire lead from Sanders. The charismatic Vermont senator is not out of striking distance, however, and he's her only legit challenger at this point. O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, is polling in the dismal single digits, and trails the field badly even in his home state.
Basically, the Democratic side of the debates was long expected to be a rather perfunctory process. Just get Clinton some face time, get in, get out. In fact, that's the reason that the Democratic National Committee's thin slate of scheduled debates this cycle (only six, compared to the GOP's 12) has come under criticism from Sanders and his supporters. The less open and public competition, the lower the chance that someone upsets Clinton's metaphorical apple cart. And like it or not, it seems to be working, with just three candidates left standing and only one debate in the books.