Politics & Government

Winners and losers in the second 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate

Who won and who flopped during round two of the Democratic presidential primary debates on Thursday night?

The State asked two South Carolina-based Democratic strategists, a political scientist and a former S.C. Democratic Party vice chairwoman, to weigh in on who had the best night, who had the worst night and who walked away with the best one-liner.

Thursday was the second of a two-night debate series in Miami — eight months ahead of the February first-in-the-South primary.

Candidates who took the stage on Thursday were: former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado; Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.; U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California; Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and author Marianne Williamson.

Here is what strategists Antjuan Seawright and Jimmy Williams, College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts and Kaye Koonce, the former first vice chair of the S.C. Democratic Party and superdelegate, had to say about Thursday night’s debate:

Read Next

Best line or moment

Knotts: “Pete Buttigieg had a strong night, and he was at his best talking about the role of faith in politics. When discussing immigration, he said, ‘For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language.’ This was a smart move that could help him in the critically important S.C. Democratic primary. According to 2016 exit polls, 89% of Democratic primary voters reported attending church weekly or occasionally. Religion is important in South Carolina, for both Republicans and Democrats.”

Koonce: “Kamala Harris’s interjection, ‘America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.’ Harris was able to channel Democratic voters watching the free-for-all. She accomplished what the moderators were unable to accomplish.”

Seawright: “The heated fellowship between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It shows that Democrats are very passionate on some issues that are personal and some are political. The best line came from Kamala Harris when she said, ‘ America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.’ “

Williams: “Oddly there were many great zingers, but none of them were as important as the moment when Kamala Harris went after Joe Biden.”

Worst line or moment

Knotts: Marianne Williamson had a lot of bad moments but her response to the question about her first priority as president was the worst. Instead of answering the question, she talked about calling the prime minister of New Zealand. According to Williamson, ‘My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand, who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the place where it’s the best place in the world for a child to grow up. And I would tell her, ‘girlfriend you were so on.’ The United States of America is going to be the best place for a child to grow up.’ She did not answer the question and her response seemed completely random and out of place.”

Koonce:Any or all of the moments when Marianne Williamson was talking. It was unfortunate that she was given so much time when what she said had very little bearing on why she is running or how a Democrat can beat Donald Trump.”

Seawright: “When Eric Swalwell said, ‘I was six years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention’ and then said, ‘It’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.’ “

Williams: “Bernie Sanders lost tonight. He said nothing unusual, had no sense of humor (unlike his debates with Hillary Clinton in 2106), and didn’t propose a single new idea. Nothing was inspiring. Nothing.”

Who won and why

Knotts:Pete Buttigieg had a very good debate, but Kamala Harris was the clear winner. Her best moment was when she attacked Joe Biden for his comments about working with segregationists and his opposition to busing. She talked about how busing had a positive impact on her life, personalizing Biden’s past policy position. Harris’ criticism will likely hurt Biden’s support among African American voters. Polling indicates he has strong support from African Americans, a critically important voting bloc in the S.C. Democratic primary. In 2016, 61% of Democratic primary voters were African American.”

Koonce: “Kamala Harris won by clearly articulating her positions and plans, and she proved she would be formidable in a debate against Donald Trump.”

Seawright: “There were several winners. Joe Biden showed and proved why he is and has been labeled the Democratic Party frontrunner. Also, Kamala Harris did not come to play. Every argument she made tonight was a closing argument. Also, Pete Buttigieg. He may not get headlines, but he had a good night.”

Williams: “Kamala Harris won the debate. She drew Biden’s blood like no one else could and it empowered her.”

Follow more of our reporting on First in the South

See all 10 stories
Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.