For one night only, 10 candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the debate stage Thursday in Houston, Texas, to lay out — and attempt to peel off support from their opponents — why they deserve support from primary voters.
The stage featured former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana; Julián Castro, former U.S. housing secretary; U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
The State asked two political consultants and two political scientists to weigh in on Thursday’s presidential primary debate.
Here’s what Columbia political consultant Carey Crantford; Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright; College of Charleston political scientist Jordan Ragusa; and former Winthrop University political scientist Karen Kedrowski, who now leads the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, had to say about Thursday’s presidential primary debate.
1. Who won the debate and why?
Crantford: “Winning is a difficult task in a three-hour debate with 10 participants. But in the end Vice President Biden stood his ground against some furious and petty challenges and gave as good as he got. However, Sen. Warren made some significant strides. She did a great job weaving together he personal story while explaining her policy positions. She was earnest, believable and in command on the facts. Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke also had some very strong moments. He was elevated by his own competitors for his leadership after the shootings in Texas. His clear views on gun control and assault weapons made an impression.”
Kedrowski: “The candidates generally did well during the debate so this is a difficult decision. They all had strong answers to the resilience question, for instance. Yet I am going to say Sen. Cory Booker won. He demonstrated his mastery of issues, related well to the audience, had a funny line or turn of phrase from time to time — my favorite was ‘No. Let me translate that into Spanish: No.’ — was never flustered or defensive, and painted a picture of a better America. He did a great job with a uniformly strong performance.”
Ragusa: “I thought Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro won the evening, albeit for the opposite reasons. Warren was crisp in her answers and displayed a clear command of the issues. And, as one of front runners, she was effective in her effort to rise above the fray. Castro, by comparison, did the most to improve his standing with some combative one-liners. Castro won’t be a front runner tomorrow, but he will be part of the conversation going forward.”
Seawright: “I think the party won the debate because no matter how much we disagree on addressing the issues that Republicans have failed on, our disagreements do not compare to the failures of the other side and how they want to govern this country.”
2. What was the best line or moment of the night and why?
Crantford: “There were a few well-crafted lines in the debate. Sen. Warren’s quip the she had never met a person who loved their health insurance company was well timed and deflected questions about her health care plans. Sen. Harris had two good lines. When discussing gun violence and the Texas shootings she noted that President Trump ‘didn’t pull the trigger but he tweeted out the ammunition.’ Sen. Harris also took aim at President Trump referring to him as being like ‘the small dude in the Wizard of Oz’ who was behind the curtain.”
Kedrowski: “My notebook is filled with memorable lines from Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She had so many: quoting Lincoln with ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand;’ ‘Houston, we have a problem;’ and ‘We have a President who runs the White House like a game show.’ However, the best line in the debate was Klobuchar’s when she responded to Sanders about Medicare for All, “He wrote the bill but I read the damn bill, and on page eight it says, there will be no private health insurance.’ “
Ragusa: “I thought Julian Castro had the best moment with two memorable lines in quick succession. First, he landed one of the biggest blows of the evening when he challenged Biden for not remembering an aspect of his own healthcare plan. Was it a low blow? Perhaps. But was it effective? Yes. A few moments later, when Pete Buttigieg pointed to the Castro-Biden kerfuffle as an example of why Americans hate politics, Castro shot back ‘This is a Democratic primary!’ drawing a loud applause.”
Seawright: “I think the best moment of the night was when (former) Vice President Biden gave his closing arguments, talking about him losing a wife and a son. The personal connection really pushes the emotions out of people and people can relate to that. In spite of the politics of the issues, sometimes emotions can make the difference in political moments.”
3. What was the worst line or moment of the night and why?
Crantford: “Hands down the opening statement gimmick by Andrew Yang to attract people to sign up on his website for a contest to award money was both awkward and inappropriate. Yang’s gimmick left the room silent. A close second was Sec. Castro’s uncomfortable attempt to attack Vice President Biden over a misstatement on healthcare.”
Kedrowski: ”Andrew Yang’s quip, ‘I’m Asian so I know a lot of doctors.’ Say what?”
Ragusa: “I don’t think any line or moment was that bad, but Amy Klobuchar starting the debate with ‘Houston, we have a problem’ was a little cringe worthy.”
Seawright: “The protesters. We’re trying to have a discussion of who can flush out, who can address the issues of our day. To come to a debate and yell and scream over candidates isn’t the best place to do that. There are better places to share passions or disagreements or raise issues.”
4. Which candidate was strongest taking on front-runner Joe Biden?
Crantford: ”Sen. Warren seemed to have a good night and should move up in the next round of polls. But Vice President Biden’s most serious opponent during the night was himself. As the debate progressed, Biden seemed to tire and fumbled badly the question about failure and set-back.”
Kedrowski: ”Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who first cited Sen. Booker’s line about Biden wanting to claim credit for the Obama administration successes and distancing himself from its less popular policies, and then he held Biden accountable for contradicting himself on the Medicare Buy-in issue: ‘Are you forgetting what you said just two minutes ago?’ He put Vice President Biden on the defensive and his rebuttal was weak.”
Ragusa: “I thought Joe Biden was his own worst enemy in this debate. Unlike Warren, Booker, and Buttigieg, Biden stumbled with many of his answers and rambled in others. He also set himself up for easy counterattacks, drawing numerous challenges from his Democratic rivals. Given his position on the stage, sandwiched between his two biggest opponents, and his position in the polls, Biden needed a solid performance. He achieved that in his first two debates — last night, not so much.”
Seawright: “I don’t think anyone did the better job of taking on Joe Biden. Everyone did a good job putting the focus on Donald Trump. I don’t think candidates do a good service by tackling people with the same jerseys on while they are on the field.”