• 2020 Watch: Big tests loom for late entries and top tier

    By: STEVE PEOPLES, AP National Political Writer

    Updated:
    NEW YORK (AP) - Presidential politics move fast. What we're watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:

    Days to Iowa caucuses: 77

    Days to general election: 351

    THE NARRATIVE

    The Democrats' historically large presidential field is getting even larger. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joined the race late last week, and New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg is likely to follow in the coming days. Neither will appear in Wednesday's debate, but another 10 Democrats will. Voters on the ground in the early states are pushing back against the late entries, while the party's establishment class welcomes new faces amid their deep concerns about the strength of the top-tier candidates. The cloud of uncertainty hanging over the race is getting thicker.

    THE BIG QUESTIONS

    Will Bloomberg answer the $50 billion question?

    His advisers are telegraphing a run, but it's no sure thing until Bloomberg says the words himself. Expect him to announce his intentions this week one way or another. No one is paying closer attention than Joe Biden, the establishment favorite who has the most to lose with another high-profile centrist in the race. With a net worth exceeding $50 billion, it goes without saying that Bloomberg has the resources to change the national narrative, even if the recently turned Democrat doesn't have much support in the party's base. He already pledged to spend $100 million in digital ads attacking President Donald Trump.

    Can Patrick capitalize on his moment?

    He has virtually no national profile, no campaign infrastructure and no campaign cash. But Patrick will receive a disproportionate amount of media attention as he continues his rollout tour in Iowa and South Carolina early in the week. He will have no better opportunity than this one to establish himself as a factor in the crowded contest. It's an uphill climb. Patrick's strong relationship with former President Barack Obama makes for an intriguing subplot.

    Can Warren get back on track in the debate?

    Elizabeth Warren's continued struggle to explain how she'd pay for her health care plan looms large ahead of this week's debate. The awkward exchange in last month's debate is at least partly to blame for stalling her momentum, while raising larger questions about her authenticity as a candidate. No one has more on the line when health care inevitably comes up again on Wednesday than the Massachusetts senator. One challenge: She'll be on stage with nine Democrats, including Biden and Buttigieg, who are ready and willing to go on the attack.

    Will black voters warm up to Mayor Pete?

    He's suddenly the hottest ticket in Iowa, but Pete Buttigieg cannot win his party's presidential nomination without dramatically improving his standing with the African-American voters who play a major role in subsequent states. Until that happens, much of the political establishment will continue to view the 37-year-old small-city mayor's presidential bid with skepticism. Buttigieg will confront his challenge directly this week with two events facing largely African-American audiences, both in Atlanta. He'll appear at the historically black Morehouse College on Monday and a breakfast with Al Sharpton's National Action Network on Thursday.

    Impeachment: Will it be over before Iowa?

    The length of the impeachment inquiry is quickly becoming a serious concern for some of the leading Democratic candidates, none more than Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. They're hoping this week brings new clarity. Should the House vote to send articles of impeachment to the Senate, as is expected, the Senate trial could easily prevent the top-tier candidates from spending as much time campaigning as they'd like. Suddenly, the prospect of an impeachment vote coinciding with primary voting in Iowa or New Hampshire this February isn't unthinkable.

    THE FINAL THOUGHT

    No one has more at stake this week than Biden, who faces a direct threat both from Bloomberg's potential candidacy and Buttigieg's rise. The former vice president cannot afford to have a lackluster debate. Given the approaching Thanksgiving holiday, the narrative that emerges this week could take hold for several weeks.

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    2020 Watch runs every Monday and provides a look at the week ahead in the 2020 election.

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    Follow Peoples at https://twitter.com/sppeoples

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