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Now it's time to challenge the Dems

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is about to host a Democratic presidential candidates forum Friday night in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It's not a debate; Maddow will speak with each of the candidates separately. But it will give viewers the chance to hear what Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley have to say in response to what Maddow promises will be challenging questions on the stage.

So what should Maddow ask the candidates about the economy? Here are three suggested questions for each Democratic candidates:

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks to guests at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on October 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
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Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks to guests at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on October 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.

3 for Martin O'Malley

  1. As Governor of Maryland, you raised personal income, corporate, sales, gas, beer, wine, and cigarette taxes. You also raised net spending during your tenure in office. But when you left office Maryland had a larger than expected $1.2 billion budget shortfall and its economy is still sluggish. Looking back, do you think you might have raised taxes too much while not spending wisely enough?
  2. I'm intrigued by your detailed plan to expand the job corps and other public service programs for recent high school graduates and other young people to help them learn the culture of work. But most of the programs you want to expand have been around for a long time. Are budgetary constraints the real reason why they haven't become more popular over the years?
  3. Sticking with public service, as Governor of Maryland you presided over a state where more than one out of every four people was a government employee. While the rest of working America is struggling to get or keep job security and on-the-job benefits like pensions and paid leave, government workers enjoy those benefits and many more. With that in mind, why aren't states like Maryland or cities like Detroit doing better economically even though they have so many residents in secure, high-benefit government jobs?
Sen. Bernie Sanders takes part in the Democratic presidential debate, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders takes part in the Democratic presidential debate, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas.

3 for Bernie Sanders

  1. As our debt soars toward $20 trillion, you've advocated spending less on corporate subsidies and overseas wars. But even if we did that, paying for the sum total of all the programs you support, like your "College for All" plan, would explode the debt more than any president in history. At some point are you just promising too much?
  2. You've taken a tougher stance than the other Democratic candidates on immigration. Is that because you believe in this famous statement by the staunch capitalist and Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman: "You can have a welfare state and you can have liberal immigration policies, but you can't have both?"
  3. In last month's Democratic presidential debate, you said America should learn more from social democracies like Denmark and their economic policies. But in fact, Denmark has been reforming and cutting back on its social welfare spending for years. And a new study shows that the U.S. already spends more on social welfare programs than any other developed country except France. Is our government not socialist enough or is it too socialist already?
Hillary Clinton
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Hillary Clinton

3 for Hillary Clinton

  1. Based on what you, Governor O'Malley, and Senator Sanders say about the economy and opportunity in America, you wouldn't believe the Democrats have held the White House for the last seven years. If having a Democrat in the White House for the last seven years hasn't improved economic opportunities adequately so far, what will another four years for any Democrat produce?
  2. What a difference 23 years make! In 1992, your husband's first presidential campaign worked very hard to prove Democrats could be pro-corporate and pro-capitalist. And President Clinton is widely credited by many Democrats and Republicans for compromising to boost the economy and the stock market by cutting capital gains taxes, cutting and reforming welfare, and helping to repeal the law that barred commercial banks from many investment activities. But now, your campaign is filled with harsh words for corporations, calls for more regulations, and even statements on your Twitter feed have helped depress health care and other stocks within minutes. Why was Bill Clinton wrong about economic policy and why are you right?
  3. Democrats and even some Republicans running for all levels of public office have complained about growing income inequality in America. While no one denies the income gap is growing, the most profound part of that gap is not between the rich and poor, but between multi-millionaires and billionaires. So, are we wrong to focus so much about income inequality and shouldn't we focus on fighting poverty and let the gap between the super rich take care of itself?

The Democratic presidential candidates forum airs Friday night at 8pm Eastern Time on MSNBC.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.