In next week's Democratic debate, all eyes are on Sanders vs. Clinton.
Though the October 13 Democratic presidential debate will include a handful of presidential hopefuls, it’s the Bernie and Hillary show that’s most highly anticipated.
In this first Democratic debate, the former first lady, secretary of State, and one of the party's most experienced debaters, Hillary Clinton will take on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her biggest rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But the über progressive Senator Sanders is no slouch either, say his former Vermont political rivals from both parties. They say the combative Sanders will be a formidable challenger to Mrs. Clinton.
"There is nobody better at delivering a message than Bernie," Republican Richard Tarrant, a wealthy businessman who lost a 2006 Senate race to Sanders told Reuters.
"His style is a little gruff. You can poke at him and get him angry, but he's good at rolling out of it," Mr. Tarrant said. "He's got numbers, he's got facts, and if he gets caught by surprise, he'll shift really quickly to his stump message. I don't think Hillary stands a chance against him."
To outshine Clinton would be a major boon for Sanders, who’s already narrowed the gap with her in fundraising and in opinion polls. Sanders has been leading Clinton in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to a CBS poll conducted in September.
But next week’s debate in Las Vegas will put Sanders on the biggest political stage to date, though he has drawn massive crowds at rallies and town halls around the country. Besides Clinton, he will face former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, and former US Sen. James Webb of Virginia.
"He may not have been on the national stage before, but I do not think it will faze him in the slightest,” John MacGovern, a Republican who challenged Sanders unsuccessfully in 2012 told Reuters. “He will say what he believes and it will be very easy for him," he added.
Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said the Senator views the debate as an "opportunity to talk about the issues he's been talking about for decades," according to Reuters. He told the news service that he expects questions about campaign finance and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which would liberalize trade in a region stretching from Vietnam to Canada.
But the one thing he won’t talk about, says Mr. Briggs, is Clinton’s e-mail troubles, referring to the controversy over her use of a private email server instead of her government account while she was secretary of State.
"He thinks there are more important things to talk about," Briggs said.
This report contains material from Reuters.