COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For the third Democratic debate candidates will not only be fighting for talking time, they will also be fighting for voters’ attention.
That’s difficult battle in Columbia, South Carolina in particular.
"If my Mom watches it, then I'll watch it," said Democratic voter Joshua Bowers.
Hometown favorites Hootie and the Blowfish are playing a sold out show in Columbia and the Carolina Panthers are headlining Thursday Night Football. For the voters tuning into the third Democratic presidential debate, they’ll see the top 10 contenders for the nomination on one stage for the first time.
Considering Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading South Carolina primary polls by about 25 points in the latest statewide poll, experts say he is the candidate for Palmetto State voters to watch.
“I think this is both an opportunity for people that are trailing him to go after him, but it’s also an opportunity for Biden to kind of reclaim his front runner status,” Robert Oldendick, a University of South Carolina political science professor, said.
Fighting amongst each other has proven to help candidates this cycle.
WIS spoke with over a dozen South Carolina voters, and many still remember when Sen. Kamala Harris brought up Biden’s history with school busing during the first debate. It was a back-and-forth that gave her a polling bump at the time.
While it is potentially beneficial in the short run, Oldendick says if Democrats want to take back the White House, they need to start focusing on the general election rather than each other.
“At some point there has to be this turn in the narrative," he said. "Whoever the candidate or the nominee is is going to have to make the case as to why they should be the president instead of Donald Trump, and this is an opportunity to make that case.”
Voters aren’t just interested in the candidates’ back-and-forth battles, they are also interested in getting a chance to compare the top 10 candidates’ policies. Specifically, they want to know about their economic policies.
“I’m thinking about what I want to do and how much I want to make in life,” Bowers said. “I don’t want to be struggling everyday.”
Experts echoed these feelings, and said the economy and its impact on healthcare is a top issue for South Carolina voters.
“Relative to the rest of the of the country, we tend to be lower socioeconomic status (so) economic issues have more of an impact on our daily lives,” Oldendick said about Democratic voters in the state.
But the chance to make these comparisons among the top 10 candidates at one time may not last, billionaire Tom Steyer says he has qualified for the fourth debate in October. Steyer makes 11 total qualifying candidates, so it’s likely the Democratic National Committee will split the debate into two nights.
Thursday’s debate airs on ABC at 8 p.m.