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First Democratic debate 2019: Live updates from Night One

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Thanks for following our live coverage of a very policy-filled evening in Miami during Night One of the Democratic debate. Our live blog will be back around 6 p.m. ET Thursday with coverage of the second group of 10 candidates on Night Two of the debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of both nights of the first Democratic debate.

Live Blog

Hoping to stand out (and stand tall), three candidates will use risers

With 10 candidates on stage Wednesday night, it may be hard for some to rise to the occasion. 

But luckily, the candidates can use risers. And three are taking advantage of that. 

NBC News took a look behind the lecterns ahead of Wednesday night’s debate and spotted a large riser behind Julián Castro’s spot and two smaller ones behind Tulsi Gabbard’s and Amy Klobuchar’s spots.

They could come in handy, especially for Castro, who will be standing next to the 6-foot-4 Tim Ryan and one more spot over from the 6-foot-5 Bill de Blasio — a trait the New York City mayor has admitted he’ll use to his advantage. 

Asked earlier this month by reporters in Iowa how he planned to stand out at the debate, he replied, "Well, I'm taller than all of them, so that’s the first strategy."

The candidates and the issues: A brief guide

The stage is set for night one of the debates. Here’s a primer on the candidates and the issues.

Scenes from the debate

NBC News politics reporter Jon Allen checks in with some scenes outside the debate hall, complete with an array of supporters, protesters, and more.

Trump will watch first debate, but he doesn't want to

President Donald Trump plans to watch the first of the Democratic debates Wednesday night while on a plane headed for the G-20 summit in Japan — but he's not looking forward to it.

"It just seems very boring, but I'm going to watch it because I have to," he said Wednesday morning during an almost 50-minute live phone interview on Fox Business Network. "This is part of my life."

He continued to downplay the Democrats during the phone call, casting the candidates as a "very unexciting group of people."

The president stopped short of saying he planned to live-tweet during the debate, and the only challenger he mentioned by name was Biden, calling him "a lost soul."

Here are the rules for the first debate

Politicians tend to be long-winded, but brevity will be the name of the game on the crowded stage tonight. Candidates will have 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups. And there will be no opening statements, though candidates will have a chance to deliver closing remarks.

With so many candidates, there's only so much time to go around.

"It's a little bit of exaggeration calling it a debate," former Vice President Joe Biden, who hits the debate stage Thursday night, joked in Iowa earlier this month. "It's like a lightning round."

For many lesser-known candidates, the debates will their first chance to introduce themselves to a larger national audience, so they know they have to try to pack a lot into a small amount of time. And for some better-known candidates, it might mean having to defend controversial policies or parts of their records quickly in order to give them enough time to try to finish with something positive.

How candidates have been preparing: pushups, videos, brevity

They have to introduce themselves to the country, contrast themselves with the other candidates, make the case for why they should be the next leader of the free world and not make any embarrassing mistakes — and their campaigns estimate they'll each have about 10 minutes to do so.

Here's a look at how the 10 candidates participating in the first night of the Democratic debate prepared for the main event.

Julián Castro just needs to 'be himself'

Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, says the best thing his twin brother, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, can do at tonight’s debate is “be himself.”

“People quite honestly still need to get to know him. There’s still a large percentage of people who don’t know who he is,” Castro told NBC News ahead the first Democratic presidential debate Wednesday night. 

“He’s been a leader on so many issues during his campaign: on immigration, on police reform, on housing,” he said, responding to a question about how brother will differentiate himself on a stage with nine other candidates. “He’s going to continue to be a candidate of great substance and continue to talk about building opportunity for all Americans.”

Castro also said his brother will talk directly to Latinos watching the debates.

“This president has really targeted the Latino community and immigrants. There will be millions of Latinos watching tonight, and I think they want to hear they are fundamentally part of the country, which they are, and how this country creates opportunity for everybody,” said Castro, who along with his brother is of Mexican descent. “My brother Julián is going to be talking about that.”

Can Beto O'Rourke hold his ground?

Beto O'Rourke's critics say there's not much steak with his sizzle and they've bristled at the attention he got early in the campaign when women senators with longer records of accomplishment were ignored by comparison. The former Texas congressman's supporters say he can go deep on policy with anyone and point to recent proposals as evidence.

Now, standing between Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, he'll literally be between two sharp-witted women with unquestioned command of substance.

If O'Rourke looks like he belongs, that'll be a victory of sorts for him. But there's a chance they strip the bark off him just by being themselves.

DNC chair Tom Perez addresses Gov. Steve Bullock's absence at first debate

Brynn Anderson / AP

Just hours ahead of Wednesday's Democratic primary debate in Miami, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said that it "wouldn't surprise me at all" if Montana Gov. Steve Bullock qualified for the next debate but said he couldn't have changed the rules to allow the red-state governor onto the initial stage.

"Wouldn't surprise me at all if Gov. Bullock is on stage at the next debate because he's a great candidate who has a remarkable vision," Perez said. "You can't change the rules midway because I like someone. I like Gov. Bullock a lot and that's not a reason to change the rules you put forth and everybody follows."

Bullock did not qualify for the initial debate after he failed to hit either the polling or donation standard set by the DNC. He had hoped that a Washington Post/ABC poll would count toward his qualification, but the DNC said that poll would not count in its decision-making.

Instead of partaking in the debate, Bullock is holding a televised town hall in Iowa.

Perez was also asked if he was concerned about any of the Democratic candidates on Wednesday's stage going after each other in an attempt to boost their own candidacy. Perez said he expects that "everybody is going to make sure people know what they stand for.

What to watch for at tonight's debate

Ten candidates — led by Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker — will participate tonight beginning at 9 pm ET. And the second 10 — led by Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg — go on Thursday.

Tonight, we’ll be watching how Warren handles being the night’s frontrunner. The Massachusetts senator has been moving up in the polls. And without Biden or Bernie on the stage, she’s the star attraction — at least on paper. Maybe Warren’s biggest task is handling the high expectations.

But who else will break through, Beto, Booker or Klobuchar? Will it be O’Rourke, who has seen his star fade since his entry in March? Or Booker, who really hasn’t had a moment so far in the 2020 race? Or Klobuchar, who often stands out when she’s on TV.

Six other candidates are on tonight’s debate stage, and they’re vying to survive the higher qualifications before September’s third debate(s): Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, former Rep. John Delaney, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Tim Ryan, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

How to watch tonight’s debate

The network is offering almost as many ways to watch the debates as there are candidates.

The debates begin at 9 p.m. ET and end at 11 p.m. ET Wednesday and Thursday night, with 10 candidates on each night.  Both two-hour debates will be moderated by Savannah Guthrie of “Today,” Lester Holt of “Nightly News,” Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo and NBC, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press.”

NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo are airing the debate live, with Telemundo broadcasting it in Spanish. It will also stream online for free on NBC News' digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo's digital platforms; it will also stream live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

NBC News NOW, the new streaming news service available through NBC's OTT apps and NBCNews.com, will host an hour-long pre-show and post-show each night, featuring conversations from a student viewing party, a panel of experts, explainers and analysis.