The Democratic stage was crowded, but a few candidates stood out. Here are tonight’s winners and losers from the CNN Democratic Debate.
1). Joe Biden- There was a question as to whether Trump’s Ukraine conspiracies would help or hurt Biden. The answer is that Biden is using Trump’s attacks to sell himself as the candidate that Trump is afraid of. Biden hasn’t been hurt in this primary by Trump’s Ukraine conspiracies. The former vice president also benefitted from the heavy focus from other candidates on Elizabeth Warren. Biden did nothing to hurt his status as one of the two candidates at the top of the field.
2). Amy Klobuchar – Klobuchar dumped some of her contrived I’m from the Midwest tactics and talked. Sen. Klobuchar was a pain in the neck for Warren, and she carved herself out a niche in the middle lane of the primary. Klobuchar had a problem standing out in previous debates. At the CNN debate, she seemed more comfortable and had a much better debate.
3).Pete Buttigieg- Buttigieg had his strongest debate showing on numerous issues. He shined when he talked about foreign policy. He more than held his own with Sen. Warren when talking about Medicare for All. It was a good debate for the moderates, and if this is one candidate who is ready to step into the top three should Sanders, Warren, or Biden slide, it is Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
1).Elizabeth Warren- Sen. Warren got the frontrunner treatment, as her rise in the polls has been noticed by all of the other Democrats. The other candidates on stage went after Warren, and she struggled to defend her policies. Sen. Warren has yet to explain how she will pay for Medicare For All. Warren is a very strong candidate, but the other candidates are framing her as a “pipe dream candidate,” and if that characterization sticks, it is going to be a problem. Sen. Warren needs to be able to answer these questions in the Democratic primary because Republicans will come at her a thousand times harder in the general election.
2). Beto O’Rourke- The problem for former Rep. O’Rourke was that the stage was too crowded, and he had a difficult time standing out. O’Rourke did make an interesting point about Elizabeth Warren wanting to pit people against each other, but the O’Rourke, who shined in the Texas Senate race, has struggled to distinguish himself on the national stage.
3). Tom Steyer- Steyer got off to a great start by pointing out that any of the Democrats on stage are better than Trump, but he also struggled to get airtime and distinguish himself. Steyer doesn’t seem to have a campaign theme or message, so he is just kind of there.
4). Andrew Yang- Andrew Yang is a unique candidate, but he doesn’t fit into the presidential box. Yang could have a political future, but he isn’t someone that one can see winning the Democratic nomination.
5). Julian Castro- This was Castro’s worst debate. He hurt by the number of candidates on the stage. There were long periods where he wasn’t heard from, and when he did get airtime, he didn’t stand out. Barring a miracle, the Castro campaign will probably be over early in the Democratic primary.
6). Cory Booker- The struggle continues for Sen. Booker. He defended Joe Biden from the Ukraine conspiracy, but otherwise, he couldn’t break out of the pack. In every presidential primary, there are good candidates who never catch on. Cory Booker seems to be in that category.
7). Tulsi Gabbard- Gabbard is a candidate who doesn’t fit this primary. She can’t gain traction with mainstream Democrats or progressives. She can’t break into the progressive wing that Sanders and Warren have cornered, but she isn’t moderate, so she doesn’t fit into the Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar group.
8). Kamala Harris- Sen. Harris had a good moment where she was talking about women’s access to reproductive healthcare, but she has faded into the Democratic primary pack. Sen. Harris is a candidate who can’t sustain momentum. She needed to do something to elevate herself back to the top of the field, and it didn’t happen in this debate.
9). Bernie Sanders- Sen. Sanders is the candidate who has been hurt the most by the difference between the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries. Sanders is boxed in. He has an Elizabeth Warren problem that he appears not to know what to do about. Sanders gets points for honestly telling everyone that taxes will go up under his Medicare For All plan. Sanders has a strong donor base, and he is polling well in Iowa and Nevada. A debate stage with fewer candidates would help him, but Sanders needs to freshen up his message because too much of it sounds like 2016, and voters had already seen that movie four years ago.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association