Pressure’s on Democratic candidates as they try to woo Miami — and the nation

The Democratic primary debates in Miami will take place next door to Overtown, a low-income neighborhood where residents need job training, like this culinary program.
The Democratic primary debates in Miami will take place next door to Overtown, a low-income neighborhood where residents need job training, like this culinary program. Miami Herald

Here we go.

Tonight, the 2020 presidential race officially kicks off with two nights of primary debates among 20 Democratic candidates.

With such a crowded race, the contenders will have to fight for the spotlight.

The top names the first night are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The second night features former Vice President Joe Biden; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

It’s a national debate, but with the candidates making their debut together in Miami — and Florida — local issues should take center stage.

They better be ready to rumble, because Miami certainly is. Letter writers, op-ed columnists and, on today’s Opinion Page, the Herald’s Influencers, have made their priorities clear. They want candidates to address immigration reform, healthcare, economic growth, trade and income inequality. Of course, climate change is the biggie, and it should be.

Climate change and the rising seas will impact South Florida more immediately and severely than any other part of the country.

The Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post, together have spent a year examining how the area will be affected in the series “The Invading Sea.”

What we discovered is not a pretty picture, though there are bright spots. Candidates should be prepared to detail short- and long-term solutions, offering innovative ideas that prove they understand that our economy and our very way of life are at stake.

The debate will take place a stone’s throw from Miami’s historic black neighborhood of Overtown. It has the 11th lowest median income out of 435 congressional districts nationwide.

The main issues there, and in other low-income and working-class communities, are access to better paying jobs, affordable housing and, rather than student debt, educational opportunity. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District, told the Herald that the Democratic debaters should not forget a powerful voting bloc: African-American women, locally and nationwide.

“Black women vote in extremely high numbers and make sure that other people in their lives turn out also,” Wilson said. Smart debaters will find a way to address the lives of black women — and men — to connect with them. Already, Warren has addressed dismal mortality rates among black women giving birth. However, Buttigieg, despite his smarts, has been tone-deaf to even the black communities of his own city.

Immigration reform is another major issue. Thousands of DREAMers live in South Florida, but more infamously the city of Homestead, in south Miami-Dade, is home to a controversial detention center for unaccompanied immigrant children, where 3,000 are housed. What are the candidates’ solutions?

With so many Democrats vying for attention, the pressure’s on to stand out. For our part, we value intelligence over charm, clarity over likability, commitment over cute and hip. After all, this isn’t a horse race. The stakes are much higher.