Will Clinton be able to get the job done? It's a tall and complicated order for just two hours.
For a start, Clinton will have to create enthusiasm for her pragmatic and deeply thoughtful policy-centered candidacy versus the leftist, pugilistic, feel-good rhetoric of Bernie Sanders. And she will need to do this even while fending off attacks from three candidates who have gotten zero attention, but who will still be participating in the debate: Lincoln Chafee, Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb.
This won't be easy, because even though Clinton's policies are no less sincere and authentic than those of other candidates, she has the "smart girl in class" problem. She speaks carefully -- you can see her thinking through what she is saying as the words come out of her mouth. That's because she is being thoughtful, yet instead of that being celebrated, people mistake it for being calculated.
Joe Biden, in contrast, has a natural laugh and a ready slap on the back. It's a guy thing, and it is appealing to many. It makes his policy pronouncements more heartfelt and genuine. Of course, as millions of women know, speaking carefully and choosing your words in the knowledge that they are going to be dissected is no more manipulative than the old slap em' on the back style. But for some reason the latter way is just more widely accepted.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is neither smiling nor careful. It's not that he isn't charming on the campaign trail. He is a firebrand with fixed views, seemingly less interested in a conversation than an audience. But in settings like debates, firebrands tend to do well because they seem certain, confident and provide simple answers. Like Donald Trump. Sanders is much more heartfelt than Trump but he has a similar approach to projecting his viewpoint.
With that in mind, Clinton is going to have to call out Sanders. Not for his intentions, which are noble and just, and have the enthusiastic support of a lot of Democrats. Instead, she is going to have to call him out on whether his Utopian vision can prevail next November. Democrats, of course, want to win, and so Clinton is going to have to question what Sanders has ever actually been able to get done in his career to date.
It is a fine line to walk. After all, we like Sanders and we like his dreams. Hillary Clinton needs to convince people that being a realist and a pragmatist isn't selling out, that it is building on the progress made to date under President Barack Obama and positioning us for a better future.
And how does Hillary Clinton handle the ghost of Joe Biden at the debate?
There is posturing lately on positions -- can she do more for organized labor or environmentalists than the Obama administration -- but ultimately Democrats just want a nominee who gets us excited. The best thing Clinton can do at the debate is put in a great performance.
I know the Clinton team doesn't agree with this, but I personally think a Joe Biden run could be the best thing that has happened to Clinton in this primary, not least because it is hard to run against a fantasy candidate and a ghost candidate. If Biden got in, Democrats would have a choice between two people who would both make a great president, and we would evaluate them on those terms. Sure, the email issues would be raised. But for the first time in a while, the positives of Hillary Clinton, judged against the positives of Joe Biden, would also be raised.
I, for one, am sick of Clinton's candidacy being defined by whether she can "survive" an email scandal. She has so much more to offer and Democrats need to be reminded of that. Biden jumping in would shake up the primary in a way that would help Clinton and help Democrats.
Democrats don't want to limp to Philadelphia; we want to surge to the nomination knowing we have the best candidate to keep the White House. I know Democrats have the best positions on issues to take our country forward. Hillary Clinton could hold her own in that contest. So could Joe Biden. And Democrats win either way.
It starts anew on October 13 in Las Vegas.