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Democratic debate live updates: Candidates spar in October debate in Ohio

Image: Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.Adrian Lam / NBC News

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NBC News' live blog tracked the ups, downs and confrontations of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle, co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times.

The largest group of candidates took the stage Tuesday night at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. They included front-runners Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Sen. Bernie Sanders, who returned to the campaign after having a heart attack two weeks ago; billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who appeared in his first debate of the cycle; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who missed the September go-round after failing to qualify.

For full politics coverage, download the NBC News app.

Live Blog

Candidates agree that Trump is the most corrupt president

Right off the bat, four candidates came out swinging at Trump by calling him the most corrupt president in the country’s history: Sanders, Biden, Harris and Klobuchar.

These remarks, of course, come against the backdrop of the  House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and 2020 Democrats’ belief that Trump needs to be held accountable for alleged abuses of power.

Pat Sajack is out

“Wheel of Fortune” host and noted conservative Pat Sajack lasted about two minutes tonight.

Impeachment questions right off the bat

CNN’s Anderson Cooper launched the debate by asking the candidates, beginning with Sens. Warren and Sanders and former Vice President Biden, about impeachment  — a topic almost entirely avoided during the first three Democratic debates. This comes after Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine.

All  of the candidates on stage have backed impeachment.

Warren gets the first question

CNN immediately starts with Warren. A nod to her emergence as the candidate on the upswing?

Candidates arrive on stage

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Can impeachment power already sizable debate ratings?

The first three Democratic debates all drew sizable audiences, providing evidence of heightened public interest more than a year ahead of the 2020 election. 

And that was before impeachment. 

Now, with the president facing growing pressure from Democrats, the party's 2020 candidates will be closely watched for their thoughts on the impeachment inquiry — a potential boost for CNN's ratings. 

Public support for impeachment has been growing in the polls, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is reportedly floating a vote on the inquiry. 

The high-water mark for a Democratic debate was set in June by the second night of the first debate, which drew 15.3 million viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. That's still considerably lower than some 2016 Republican presidential debates featuring then-candidate Trump, one of which drew more than 24 million viewers.

Can Trump's influence drive the Dem ratings even higher? We'll see.

Sanders is ready to talk about his health scare

Tonight will be Sanders' return to the campaign trail since having a heart attack two weeks ago, and his campaign knows that scrutiny of the 78-year-old senator will be high. Expect Sanders to continue to be personal and reflective about his health scare, connecting it to his signature policy proposals, his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told NBC News. 

As he did in a video posted to his Twitter account last week, Sanders is ready to "talk about how we come through these things stronger, with more resolve about the mission that we're all here on Earth to try to serve," Shakir said.

"In many ways, this is going to be the first coming out of Bernie Sanders in a big way right after his medical event," Shakir said. "That's going to be framing, I assume, how some people are watching the debate, but also informing Senator Sanders about the things he needs to do to reassure people that he is running a vigorous campaign and fighting aggressively for this nomination."

Team Biden on what to expect tonight

A Biden adviser outlined the candidate's approach to the debate.

"What you'll hear tonight from the VP is that first and foremost, we have to keep the focus on Donald Trump's unprecedented abuse of power," the adviser said. "Trump is trying to distract from the fact that he has turned his back on working families. But, Biden won’t be distracted from the issues that are impacting working families."

Biden will also emphasize his decades-long record in Washington, the adviser said.

"From the Violence Against Women Act to the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, and fighting for working-class Americans, Joe Biden has delivered more tangible, progressive results than any candidate on that stage, and that's exactly what he'd do as president to move our nation forward while healing the damage Donald Trump has wrought."

Hunter Biden, Sanders' health, and Syria

Health care and the economy dominated the first questions at the earlier debates, but Syria is likely to start tonight’s debate. Bernie Sanders' health scare and Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian energy company also are likely to come up. First Read has the storylines to watch.

Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

Democratic candidates not pulling punches ahead of debate night

With the clock ticking closer to the Iowa caucuses, Democratic candidates are starting to get a bit chippy as they look to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. In recent days, the candidates have sparred over the separation of church and state, gun control, health care and more, poking at divides that will likely be apparent on stage tonight. 

Read more about the candidates' attacks on each other in the Meet the Press Blog. 

A quick look at the polls

What a difference a month and a half makes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren comes into Tuesday's debate with the momentum, with some polls putting her ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Biden is currently leading in the Real Clear Politics national poll average, which puts together most major polls tracking the Democratic nomination. But Warren has made up a lot of ground since the last debate in mid-September, with the latest RCP average putting her only about six points behind Biden.

Warren overtook Biden in the average about a week ago, while polling close to Bernie Sanders at the time of the last debate.

As for the other nine candidates on stage, they've all remained reasonably flat, with Harris and Buttigieg trading fourth place back and forth in recent weeks.