Two big questions hang over Saturday night's Democratic presidential primary debate. WillHillary Clinton go for the jugular over the theft of her campaign's private supporter data by aides to rival Bernie Sanders? And will anyone actually watch as a pair of Democratic juggernauts pretend to acknowledge bronze medal winner Martin O'Malley?
The high drama that surrounded the data breach saga on Friday was equal parts hacker movie and courtroom drama.
The Sanders camp first complained that the Democratic National Committee had overreacted to an innocent data snafu by walling it off from its own data.
Later, though, it became clear that at least four different Sanders staffers had plumbed the depths of the Clinton organization's secret stash of voter contact information after a software update made it vulnerable for 40 minutes.
Sanders wants to shift the conversation back to socialist economics. But whenever the debate does get around to issues, Clinton will likely keep the focus on the national security issues that are driving the election, and where she performs best.
Looming in the mist, though, is a new– and old – concern: Democratic strategists tell DailyMail.com that real questions remain about whether Americans are ready to put a woman at the helm of the nation's armed forces in a time of potential world war.
Three different Democratic strategists told DailyMail.com, insisting on anonymity, that gender issues still pose Clinton's toughest challenge since the next president might have to lead the United States in a time of protracted war The data-breach cloud, though, will hang heavy over Saturday night's smackdown in New Hampshire, but it won't likely have the same impact that would have accompanied a similar episode on the GOP side.
That's because only a few million Americans will see it: The Democrat shave arranged their debate schedule in a way that seems calculated to limit the visibility and exposure of Clinton, the favorite of party insiders including the powerful women who run the political organization's nerve center.
Clinton has a clear edge in her party's presidential face-off, averaging about 56 per cent support to Sanders' 31 in national polls.
That has largely been the product of Clinton's sense of inevitability as a female trailblazer and her powerful family's decades-long expertise in organizing and fundraising.
The main weakness obscuring her path – the ethical eclipse of classified emails she kept on a private email server while she servedas secretary of state, a potentially criminal violation – seemed to disappear in her first debate when Sanders helpfully declared that voters were 'sick and tired of hearing about your damned emails.'It's unlikely that Hillary will return the favor on Saturday when she's asked, as she must be, about Sanders campaign officials rifling through her organization's most prized database,the product of field organizers and fundraisers shaking trees among the'Ready For Hillary' set.
Neither Clinton nor Sanders has spoken directly about the dustup, leaving lawyers and surrogates to argue the case in the media – and, briefly, in the federal courts.
Clinton found herself with an opportunity to punch Sanders hard after the data losses were first reported. But the news came during a week when she and her handlers were trying to soften her image and paint her as more likable.
The Sanders camp sued the DNC on Friday, saying that the party's main organizing body had no right to block the campaign's access to its own pile of data in reaction to claims it had stolen bits of clinton
Both campaigns use the same software, as the Democratic Party requires, to build their voter contact database on the foundation of the party's own information.
While the master list is open to all presidential campaigns, the campaigns' add-ons belong to them exclusively.
It's unlikely the data breach question will occupy more than a sliver of Saturday night's questioning at the hands of ABC News anchors David Muir and Martha Raddatz.
Bernie, an aging Vermont senator, is desperate to avoid a persistent image as a shady character with ethical liabilities. And Hillary doesn't want to make her own donors and volunteers worry that their personal information could stray beyond Clinton world computers in Brooklyn, New York.
But when real issues take hold, it's Clinton who will enjoy the same advantage that has propelled her to the front of the liberal political class.Sanders wants to swing Americans' focus back to economic issues, the income-inequality complaints that provide his only chance to make what he calls 'Democratic socialism' seem pragmatic and less frightening.
But Americans want to hear candidates talk about terrorism and other, more immediate, challenges. And that's where Clinton shines, at least in comparison to other Democratic politicians.Despite her headache-inducing troubles surrounding the 2012 terror attack on State Department facilities in Libya, Hillary benefits from the patina of global respectability as the Obama administration's most-traveled official.
And she has embraced pieces of the president's strategic toolbox on fighting the ISIS terror army, appropriating them complete with rhetoric that sounds familiar to voters.It still remains unclear, though, if Americans are ready to put a woman at the helm of the U.S. armed forces.
Three different Democratic strategists told DailyMail.com on Friday and Saturday that Clinton faces an uphill battle, as one put it, 'wading through the testosterone of the Pentagon and being taken seriously.'