SOUTH BEND – Let’s look at some questions about the top 10 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination and their competition for the first time all together on the same debate stage.
 
Q. How did it get down to a top 10 appearing on one night?
     
A. After those first two rounds of debates, in which a field of 20 qualifiers was split for two nights of debating in Miami and then Detroit, the Democratic National Committee made qualification harder, including needing to reach at least 2% in four major polls conducted nationwide or in early primary states.
     
Q. Good decision?
     
A. Of course. It’s time to get down to serious competition among candidates with the most realistic chances for the presidential nomination so that voters can focus on them without distraction from some others with no chance at all.
     
Q. Did Mayor Pete have any difficulty qualifying?
     
A. No. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg qualified long ago through both the required number of donors and rankings in many polls.
     
Q. Will Buttigieg have a chance to shine in this debate with all the other top contenders on Sept. 12 in Houston?
     
A. A chance. Probably a limited chance.
     
Q. Why limited?
     
A. The ABC-TV moderators and questioners, just like representatives of the networks presenting the first debates, will direct more questions and allow more time for the frontrunners. 
     
Q. So, who will get the most time?
     
A. The three in the top tier in just about all the polls, clear frontrunner Joe Biden and top challengers Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
     
Q. Why?
     
A. News judgment and desire to keep viewers watching will dictate that how the two progressive challengers compete with each other and compete with Biden will get the most attention.
     
Q. Will Buttigieg be almost forgotten?
     
A. No. He is fifth, in the tier just behind the top three, in most of the polls and will have significant opportunities, just not as many as the top three.
     
Q. What will be Buttigieg’s best opportunity?
     
A. Hard to say specifically, since we don’t know the questions. But he could have an opportunity to show thoughtful and reasoned responses contrasting with any nasty bickering or stumbling or wild promising among the top three.
     
Q. Will some who didn’t qualify for this debate continue as candidates?
     
A. Yes. There’s no rule that they can’t file as candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire and elsewhere if they don’t make the debates. It’s possible, although highly unlikely, that one of the candidates who didn’t make it for the debate could go on to pull startling primary upsets and win the nomination.
     
Q. But will the field of announced contenders be cut as a result of the qualifiers for this debate?
     
A. Yes. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, who got nowhere in the polls, quickly dropped out when she didn’t qualify. Some other low performers already had given up. Will billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent millions of his own money to buy a spot on the debate stage and failed to register 2% in a fourth poll, continue to run and spend? He could. How about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, getting nowhere and looking like a small timer in comparison with South Bend’s mayor?
     
Q. Will there be a lot more debates?
     
A. Yes. Six rounds of debates were scheduled for this year and six more are planned for 2020.
     
Q. Are all these debates good for Democratic prospects of defeating President Trump?
     
A. Yes and no. Yes, if they help Democratic voters decide on a strong nominee who emerges with unified party support. Bad, if they bring about pouting by losers and a lack of party unity that developed after the Hillary vs. Bernie scrap in 2016. 

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