After years of speculation as to who will emerge to challenge Donald Trump for the White House in 2020, the 20 top Democrats are finally facing off in debates spread over two nights this week in Florida.

To say the stakes are sky high is no lie. The contrast between the incumbent Trump and whichever Democratic candidate wins will be as extreme as in any U.S. election in history.

On healthcare, the economy, immigration, foreign policy, climate change, race relations … you name it, there will be a clear choice and a stark one for voters in November 2020.  No longer can anyone say their vote doesn't matter.

Consider the images this week of young children being detained in hell hole facilities at the border, or the threats to attack Iran.  It's highly unlikely a Democratic president would be mired in those issues.

The latest polling shows Joe Biden with a solid lead on the Democratic side, but much of that is down to name recognition after a lifetime in politics.

Biden is as vulnerable a frontrunner as there could be, evidenced not least by the extraordinary number of opponents he has drawn.

This time four years ago Hillary Clinton had pretty much cleared the field but for Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor Martin O’Malley.

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How will Bernie Sanders fare at his send run at the Oval Office? Image: Getty.

How will Bernie Sanders fare at his send run at the Oval Office? Image: Getty.

Biden is vulnerable on age, he is gaffe-prone and he has performed poorly every time he has run for president.

But in his favor, he has Trump worried, he can connect with white working-class voters and he has an affable and comfortable style, the exact opposite of the incumbent.

However, there are several candidates gaining traction, most notably Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. She has been enjoying a love affair with the media in recent weeks, and she has outworked every other candidate with thought-out policy positions and by just showing up everywhere.

Critics might argue that Clinton had lots of position papers too, but what good did they do her?  Warren may also come out as too professorial and preachy like Senator Bill Bradley did some years ago. Voters know she’s smart, but can she outslug Trump in a guaranteed mud fest?

Senator Kamala Harris is likely the best placed to pick up African American support if Biden slips. That puts her in a powerful position especially as her home state of California has moved up its primary date.

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Kamala Harris. Image: Office of the Attorney General of California.

Kamala Harris. Image: Office of the Attorney General of California.

Some think she’s too bland and unwilling to take risks, but as a product of the Mayor Willie Brown machine in San Francisco she will learn fast how to emote and adjust.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg had the adoring press that has now switched to Warren as well, as probing stories about race relations in South Bend and how the homeless are treated there are taking some of the gloss off his candidacy.

He is an incredibly refreshing, straight spoken new voice, but whether he is ready for primetime remains to be seen.

Sanders is the old warhorse heading for the battle, but it is unlikely he can build the momentum similar to 2016 when he had the left to himself.

Will Beto have a second wave of energy? Image: Getty.

Will Beto have a second wave of energy? Image: Getty.

Beto O’Rourke needs to discover the spark that lit up his Texas campaign for senator, while Senator Cory Booker needs to announce himself at the first debate if he is to have any chance.

The feeling here is that Warren, in the middle of the media lovefest (for now) will win the first debates and that Biden will slip. 

In the end, it may be a complete unknown (Colorado Senator Michael Bennet is a dark horse say insiders) but by Friday night we expect the field to be down to six or seven and a clear shape on the race. Let the Game of Dems begin.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section, below. 

Will Elizabeth Warren come out on top after the first debate? Getty