Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley face off Saturday night, Nov. 14, at Drake University.

Share story

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton heads into the second Democratic presidential debate Saturday night in Iowa on an upswing as she tries to solidify her front-runner status. Her chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, will be looking to stop her momentum.

The two-hour debate at Drake University, airing on CBS starting at 6 p.m. PST, will feature them plus former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. What to look for:

1. Can Clinton do it again?

She’s had a good run in the past month, winning praise for strong performances at the first debate and in an 11-hour grilling on Capitol Hill about the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The polls, already in her favor, have shifted even more so.

She needs to prove this isn’t just a phase, that she deserves her front-runner status after several months of questions about her judgment for possibly jeopardizing national security by using a personal email system while secretary of state.

Clinton will try to repeat her performance from last month, when she showed a commanding grasp of the issues while contrasting herself with Sanders and pushing back on attacks without appearing too negative or overly confident.

2. How close to Obama?

It wasn’t long ago that political watchers expected candidates to distance themselves from President Obama. After all, they oppose his trade pact with Pacific nations and vow to do more to fix the nation’s immigration system.

And yet they have begun to embrace the president, who has had a productive few months, including negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and hashing out a long-term budget agreement with Congress. Look to the debate to see just far they go in their support.

3. How will Sanders appeal to more voters?

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, draws large crowds. He continues to raise millions of dollars. He boasts an intense following that engages in enthusiastic tweets that use the hashtag #FeeltheBern. But some wonder if Sanders has reached a plateau. He needs to speak on a variety of issues while being more personable. “People think I am grumpy,” he acknowledged last week.

4. About Syria

Obama recently said the U.S. is deploying a small contingent of special forces in Syria to help opposition groups battle the Islamic State group. Clinton backs the decision, while Sanders and O’Malley are wary of putting ground troops in the war-ravaged country. Sanders and O’Malley may see an opening to go after Clinton, on her support as well as what critics are calling another Clinton flip-flop. As secretary of state, Clinton advocated for a more aggressive U.S. role in Syria. But in October, before she backed Obama, she said she was opposed to U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.