Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Several 2020 Democratic candidates have released policy proposals this week on topics that could help strengthen their positions when they head to Detroit for the second round of debates.

Why it matters: For many, these are politically motivated rollouts. And some Democratic strategists say these plans are one way candidates can try to shield themselves from potential attacks on the debate stage.

That's not to say the candidates don't genuinely care about the issues they're pushing. But timing is everything — not just as preparation for the debates, but for their campaign speeches, too.

  • "A lot of these campaigns are trying to close gaps of vulnerability that may come up in the debate," said one Democratic strategist who's spoken with various campaigns.

Joe Biden unveiled a comprehensive criminal justice plan, and some have already said it's a way for him to address the effects of the 1994 crime bill. "If I were them, you know that’s coming," said another Democratic campaign aide. "It could inoculate him from attacks."

  • A senior Biden campaign official said that Biden will "definitely" talk about all the policies he's rolled out this month, including on health care and criminal justice, at next week's debate.

Kamala Harris released a plan to invest in safe drinking water two days before going to Michigan for the NAACP convention, where Flint is still facing a water crisis.

Beto O'Rourke released an education equity plan right before going to the NAACP convention, and almost exclusively talked about that in his opening remarks at that event.

And Elizabeth Warren preemptively defended her record by releasing a video featuring old interviews in which she warned of an economic recession years before the 2008 crisis — a setup for her new plan to avoid what she sees as a looming recession under President Trump.

What they're saying: "It was genius of Biden’s team to release a plan in advance of the debate so he has something proactively to point to and he isn’t just defending his record," said Democratic strategist Alaina Beverly.

  • "Plans are good, but it’s just to show there’s substance to you and you’re not just a personality politician," Don Colloway, a Democratic strategist, told Axios.
  • "You can even go back to [Pete] Buttigieg releasing the Douglass plan," his proposal to address racial inequality, said Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, a national political network for women of color. "That’s one way to try to shore up his talking points on how he as president would lead on racial justice ... and his lack of support amongst African Americans, without whom he cannot win."

The bottom line: These issues won't necessarily dictate the topics asked by CNN's moderators, but they certainly give candidates a way to wiggle out of any potential Harris v. Biden moments of their own.

Go deeper

Supreme Court says Manhattan prosecutors can obtain Trump's financial records

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Manhattan prosecutors can obtain President Trump’s financial records from his banks and accounting firms, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Why it matters: The ruling is a stinging loss for Trump, who has fought relentlessly to keep these records secret.

Chelsea Clinton is considering forming a venture capital firm

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Chelsea Clinton is in the very early stages of forming a venture capital firm, Axios has learned from multiple sources.

What we’re hearing: The working name is Metrodora Ventures, after the author of the first medical text known to have been written by a woman (around 2,000 years ago in Greece).

TikTok caught in a U.S.-China vise

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok, the short-video platform popular among teens for sharing funny moments and dance moves, is getting pulled into the deadly serious geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S.

The big picture: More than any other Chinese-owned app, TikTok has found success outside of its homeland. But as the U.S. sounds security alarms and China turns the legal screws on Hong Kong, the company is fighting to prove that it's not beholden to Beijing — and to forestall a threatened ban by the Trump administration.