Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are likely to go head-to-head for the first time this month.
Democratic presidential candidates must have picked up at least 20% of the convention delegates disbursed so far to qualify for this month’s debate, the party announced Friday, all but certainly meaning Biden and Sanders will be the only ones on stage.
Both Biden and Sanders have already met the new threshold, but Tulsi Gabbard, the only other candidate left in the race, has only picked up two delegates — from the U.S. territory of American Samoa, where she was born.
Gabbard hasn’t won a single contest outright and is barely registering in most polls.
Before the March 15 debate in Arizona, there are eight primaries, with a total of 371 delegates up for grabs.
Gabbard, who has resisted calls to drop out despite having virtually no path to the nomination, would need to win just about every single one of those delegates in order to qualify for this month’s debate.
The Arizona debate would mark this campaign cycle’s smallest yet, if Sanders and Biden end up the only candidates on stage. All 10 previous primary debates have featured at least six candidates.
In a preview of the likely face-off, Biden and Sanders have openly criticized each other at an increasing rate in the past few days.
Sanders is grilling Biden over his Senate record, which included voting in favor of the Iraq War and proposing cuts to Social Security and other entitlement programs.
“This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We will not defeat Donald Trump in November with a candidate who has repeatedly advocated for cuts to Social Security,” Sanders tweeted Friday along with a decades-old clip in which Biden said “everything,” including entitlement programs, must be on the budget chopping block.
Biden has punched back by shredding Sanders’ embrace of democratic socialism as a recipe for a general-election disaster while questioning the logic of the Vermont senator’s line of attack.
“Get real, Bernie,” Biden tweeted. “The only person who’s going to cut Social Security if he’s elected is Donald Trump. Maybe you should spend your time attacking him.”
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