Realistically, for the majority of the numerous candidates hoping to receive the US Democratic presidential nomination, being tapped by the eventual winner to run on his or her ticket for vice president as a consolation prize is a more likely outcome.

A combative debate among 10 of the declared candidates in Atlanta on Wednesday may not have winnowed the field of veep prospects but, rather, enlarged it by one person who was not even on the stage.

Stacey Abrams might have won the Georgia governorship last year had it not been for political dirty tricks by her Republican opponent, the secretary of state. He controlled the voting mechanism, cancelled 670,000 voter registrations in 2017, was conspicuously slow to accept new registrations and refused to step aside from his election role despite a clear conflict of interest. Losing the count by only 50,000 votes, Abrams refused to concede.

Debaters on a stage in her home town, in the context of vowing to remove such impediments to the popular will, mentioned Abrams at least three times.

What none of them said aloud is that Abrams, 46 – the first black female to be nominated for governor in any US state, ever – could bring the sort of ticket-balancing credentials that campaign managers in the diverse Democratic Party dream of.

Never mind. She had all but said it aloud herself earlier in the day, via an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled “Republicans’ extreme positions open the door for Democrats in Georgia.”

The choice of Atlanta as the location of the fifth debate, she wrote, paid tribute to “Democrats’ growing ability to win statewide and the role we can play in helping Democrats reach 270 electoral votes. Georgia is a state Democrats can and must win.”

She went on: “No Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since 1992. But over the past decade, Republican margins of victory in statewide elections have declined steadily, from eight points in the 2012 presidential election to five points in the 2016 presidential race and 1.4 points in the 2018 governor’s race. Any clear-eyed review of the numbers makes clear that Georgia is on the precipice of political change.”

Leave it to specialists to determine whether Georgia could be a 2020 swing state. Abrams argued that there’s one way that could be encouraged when she wrote at the end of the piece, “I advocated strongly for a Democratic debate to come to Georgia because this is where the fight for our nation will be lost and won. And I am confident the eventual ticket will have Georgia on its mind.”

Eventual ticket. Get it?

Foreign policy

As the 10 qualifying candidates debated in their nationally televised showdown, dominating the political discourse were the high-stakes impeachment hearings into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Democrats accuse Trump of conditioning military aid and a White House meeting on Kiev’s announcing investigations of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who worked with a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president.

But some candidates warned that obsessing over the president could sabotage Democrats’ efforts. “We cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump,” Senator Bernie Sanders said. “Because if we are, you know what? We’re going to lose the election.”‘

With attention directed at Capitol Hill, where the impeachment hearings are being held, the debate run-up has been low-key. But candidates leapt at the chance to critique Trump’s foreign policy on North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Senator Kamala Harris landed a sharp blow, saying Trump “got punked” by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. Other candidates joined her in criticizing Trump for allegedly having given Kim concessions while getting nothing in return in the way of genuine denuclearization.

Other foreign policy divides among the Democrats were laid bare in the debate.

One of the most heated exchanges came when the campaign’s rising star Pete Buttigieg ridiculed long-shot candidate Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard for meeting “a murderous dictator,” Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Gabbard and Senator Bernie Sanders both said that if they were elected the US would end useless foreign wars – which happens, also, to have been one of the planks in the platform that Donald Trump ran on, and one that he has attempted to stick to.

Buttigieg, the military veteran mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who at 37 is less than half Biden’s age, sought to paint himself as a young outsider who should be elected commander-in-chief despite his slender resume.

“I get it’s not traditional establishment Washington experience, but I would argue we need something very different right now,” Buttigieg, mayor of a small city in Indiana, told his rivals.

– With reporting by AFP