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Paris terror attacks will shift CBS News’ focus at the Democratic primary debate

John Dickerson

CBS News Political Director and “Face the Nation” anchor John Dickerson, Nancy Cordes and CBS staff prepare for the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 13, 2015.

(Chris Usher / CBS)

CBS News is changing its game plan for Saturday’s Democratic primary debate in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

The debate questions prepared earlier this week by CBS News political director John Dickerson and the network’s congressional correspondent, Nancy Cordes, were designed to burrow deep into the candidates’ views on domestic issues such as the Affordable Care Act and gun legislation. But once the news of the deadly coordinated killing rampage in Paris circulated late Friday afternoon, the moderators and producers started planning a greater emphasis on security in the debate queries.

FULL COVERAGE: Paris terror attacks

“This becomes the first segment,” said Steve Capus, the executive editor for CBS News who is overseeing the production of the event at Drake University in Des Moines. “You’ve got to get into how do you handle international terrorism? Do voters believe you are best suited for this? Are voters concerned about how you handle the situation?”

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Capus said having the candidates react to the news of the moment demonstrates the value of a lengthy campaign season.

“Everybody talks about how the whole process is too long, and arguably it is,” he said. “However, these are the types of events that make this whole cycle dynamic, and our production has to reflect that.”

There was no consideration of postponing the debate, in which Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will meet onstage for the second time starting at 6 p.m. PST. But the developments in Paris have led CBS to scratch plans for Dickerson to anchor his Sunday program “Face the Nation” from the debate site at Drake.

Instead, Dickerson will head to Washington, after the debate and broadcast from the network’s bureau there. He has booked Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael Morell, former deputy CIA director, to appear.

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CBS is also airing a special “48 Hours” on the attacks after the debate telecast on the West Coast. In the East, it will preceed the debate at 8 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveBattaglio

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