SOUTH BEND  – The next round of Democratic debating will be different. The number of presidential candidates participating will be trimmed from the 20 competing in the first two rounds. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg already makes the cut and will be on stage again in the Sept. 12-13 debating in Houston.
     
Questions?
     
Q. Who won in the Wednesday night debate in Detroit?

A. Donald Trump.
     
Q. How did Mayor Pete do in the Tuesday night debate?
     
A. Quite well. He wasn’t the winner. Elizabeth Warren came off the best. But Buttigieg stayed above the level of personal attacks against other Democratic candidates that made the Wednesday brawlers look petty. And he actually directed his criticism at Trump policies, not at Democratic policies of the past.
     
Q. What other than the number of candidates will be different in Houston?
     
A. Democrats better hope that the surviving candidates get more realistic in appealing to voters and stop tearing each other apart in a way that makes the president the real winner politically. But that’s no sure thing.
     
Q. How many of the 20 candidates will qualify for Houston?
     
A. Uncertain. The threshold set in advance by the Democratic Party for the next round is higher than for the first debates in Miami and Detroit. More individual donors in at least 20 states will be required to qualify for the grassroots funding qualification. The requirement for standing in the polls now will be at least 2% in four national polls or polls in early-voting states. The needed level before was only 1%.
     
Q. Will they still have two nights of debating?
     
A. Yes, if there still are a dozen or so candidates qualifying. If there were a dozen, that would mean six debate participants each night, a more reasonable number for meaningful discussion.
     
Q. How many rounds of debating have the Democrats planned?
     
A. A dozen, six this year and six in 2020.
     
Q. Why so many?
    
A. The theory was that all the debates will help to motivate voters to support the eventual Democratic nominee.
     
Q. Isn’t there also danger that the debating will turn off voters, give ammunition for the Trump campaign and leave the eventual nominee seriously wounded?
     
A. Yes.
     
Q.  What would be the best outcome for the Democrats?
     
A. That the nomination winner emerges from the debates and primaries with a strong showing that would bring party unity and attract independents and Republicans seeking an alternative to President Trump.
     
Q. The worst outcome?
     
A. That the nomination winner emerges from a bitter contest without unified party support, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, and that the nominee becomes as scary as Donald Trump in the view of those independents and Republicans.
     
Q. In the first two rounds, how did Joe Biden do?
     
A. Poorly in the first debate, much better in the second. He still is the frontrunner, helped actually by the strange situation of other contenders attacking policies of President Barack Obama in efforts to diminish his vice president.
     
Q. How about the two on the progressive wing?
     
A. Bernie Sanders was poor in the first debate, much better in the second. Elizabeth Warren outdid him in both rounds, providing reasons and details for policies.
     
Q. Did Kamala Harris, regarded as a big winner in Miami, keep her momentum in the second round?
     
A. No. The tables were turned, and she did not stay steady when a target of criticism rather than an unscathed attacker. 
     
Q. How about Mayor Pete, who has been a top-tier contender? Did he zoom up or fall down in the first debates?
     
A. Neither. He had solid performances in both rounds, but no big breakthrough. He has the funding and support to stay around through most if not all of the debates ahead.  

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.