No previous primary debates centered on such unpopular candidates

Previous primary debates have not necessarily been centered on popular candidates, as debates are typically used to allow candidates to discuss their policy proposals and goals. As such, there have been many debates which featured candidates who were unpopular in the polls at the time. For example, the first presidential primary debate of the 2020 election cycle featured two Governors, Bill Weld and Joe Walsh, both of whom had single-digit support in national polls at the time. This also happened in 2016, with former New York Governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum both receiving only low single-digit support but still participating in several debates. Similarly, the 2004 Democratic primary debates featured former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who had a commanding lead in the polls until his infamous “scream” speech.