(CNN) — The two leading progressives in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination are facing off on the debate stage Tuesday, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren continues to rise steadily in the polls while Sen. Bernie Sanders struggles to hold his grip on the progressive voters who supported his 2016 bid for the White House.
With the top duo center stage flanked by many of the more moderate presidential candidates who do not share their full-throated support of "Medicare for All," the debate is serving as a visual reminder of the stark ideological divide within the party. Democratic voters are clearly still struggling with the question of whether to nominate a candidate far to the left, like Sanders or Warren, or a more centrist candidate who might have greater appeal to independent and moderate voters who Trump won in 2016.
Here in the heart of the industrial Midwest, the arguments of candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg may have more resonance for voters who are spooked by the colossal change that Sanders and Warren are proposing.
Though Warren and Sanders have each indicated they will avoid attacks on one another because of their mutual respect, Sanders needs a jolt of electricity for his campaign in this chaotic field of more than 20 candidates. Meanwhile Warren has steadily moved into the upper tier of candidates in the last few months -- at the expense of Sanders -- making her a potential target on the Fox Theater stage in Detroit.
And those potential attackers could include Sanders. While the Vermont senator has been critical of the health care plans of both former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris, he has so far refrained from attacking Warren.
The latest polling numbers have created some nerve-wracking hurdles for Sanders. The latest Quinnipiac polling shows that Sanders has lost 8 percentage points since June, sitting at 11% nationally. Meanwhile Warren has maintained a steady rise, jumping past Sanders to 15% in the Quinnipiac poll released last week.
Tuesday's debate is taking place in Detroit, the largest city in the battleground state of Michigan. It's a place Democrats are working hard to flip after losing it to President Donald Trump by a narrow margin in 2016 -- the first time the state had gone to a Republican since 1988.
That setting may provide an opening for some of the lesser-known moderates in the race, some of whom are hanging on by a thread already as they fight to keep their campaigns alive.
Those candidates have more to lose on Tuesday as they struggle to raise enough money and momentum to qualify for the debates in September and October. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a late entrant to the race, is taking the debate stage for the first time since he did not qualify for the first Democratic debate in Miami.
Also on the stage on Tuesday are O'Rourke, Buttigieg, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Klobuchar, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and author Marianne Williamson, who will be looking to capitalize on her viral moments from last month's debut on the debate stage.
Each candidate has their own objective when taking the stage, but some are under more pressure than others. O'Rourke, for one, is looking to reignite the spark he kindled in his race against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last year. Hickenlooper is looking to shine as he has been losing staff while struggling to build momentum for his more centrist agenda. And Klobuchar is here in her sweet spot -- the industrial Midwest, where she believes she can speak to the voters who supported Trump.
Meanwhile, Ryan and Delaney will be looking to break out after anonymous performances in Miami's first round of debates.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
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