One is a war hero with a piece of shrapnel from Vietnam still lodged in his head. The other is a mild-mannered peacenik with an Ivy League degree in classics.
Most people have never heard of them, and they both want to be president. On Tuesday, Webb (the veteran) and Chafee (the Ivy League guy) will both take the stage in Las Vegas for the first Democratic presidential debate next to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as well as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The CNN-hosted debate will be their best chance yet to inform primary voters of their campaigns, and also to convince Americans they are better candidates than the frontrunners. It is a tall order for two candidates polling within the margin of error of 0%. TIME inquired about Webb and Chafee’s preparation for the biggest moment of their presidential campaigns so far, but both declined to comment.
“Eisenhower didn’t yap about D-Day in advance,” said a spokesman for Webb, who won a Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam.
“The governor is preparing as with all the debates in his long political career,” said a spokeswoman for Chafee, a former senator and governor of Rhode Island. “He’s focusing on the issues.”
Webb and Chafee have a surprising amount in common, besides their low poll numbers. Their ideas range from the quixotic (Chafee wants to implement the metric system) to the grand (Webb wants to overhaul the criminal justice system).
Both have a long history working with Republicans: Webb was Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan before he was a U.S. Senator, and Chafee was a Republican for most of his political life, as mayor of Warwick, R.I., and Senator from the state. (Webb and Chafee never served at the same time in Congress.)
They both rest their credibility on foreign policy. Chafee’s campaign slogan is “Prosperity through Peace.” He believes in ending drone strikes, entertains the idea of a rapprochement with the Islamic State, and says Edward Snowden “did the right thing” and should come back to the United States. Webb thinks the United States has to focus its energies on Asia and wrote in an article the day after September 11, 2001, in all caps “DO NOT OCCUPY TERRITORY.”
They often point to their early opposition to the Iraq War as part of their bona fides. Webb called it “the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory” in 2003, and Chafee was the only Republican Senator to vote against the war in 2002. That, along with Webb’s warning in 2011 against intervention in Libya, could be a line of attack against the more hawkish Clinton.
But for both, months of campaigning are as good as anything as they prepare for the Democratic debate.
Chafee has been glad-handing voters in New Hampshire with single-minded focus, driving his sedan up to New Hampshire to visit the state more than any other candidate (he’s been there nearly 30 times since the campaign began, according to his spokeswoman). He’s had plenty of time to perfect his platform.
“People in New Hampshire say, ‘Thank you for coming, we want to have a choice,’” said Chafee’s spokeswoman. “They like what they hear.”
Early on in his campaign, Webb’s allies from his Navy and days in Congress helped put together an 8-inch thick issue book that the former Senator has been looking over for months. He’s been stumping on the facts. “That’ll come in handy for this,” said Crawford.
“The man’s just doing what he does,” added Crawford, “thinking through the issues and what he wants to say about them and not doing phony rehearsals, or stuff like that.”
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