Wednesday night ten Democratic presidential hopefuls and four moderators gathered in Atlanta Georgia to hold the latest debate. The night answered one question, opened up two others in my mind and had to fight with an impactful day in Congress for headlines. Let’s explore.
This will mark the first time during this campaign season that I will give the entire moderator team a high grade. Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell and Kristen Welker of NBC/MSNBC were joined by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and both individually and collectively did a superb job of keeping order, which is not an easy task considering the egos on the stage and the moderators’ need to have access to people like them in their day jobs. When candidates seemed to be getting out of control they changed the topic by changing questioners. It happened too many times to be coincidence. Maddow and Welker cut off candidates in order to maintain order or got to commercial break.
The big question going into the evening was how Pete Buttigieg would hold up under the anticipated pressure that would come with his frontrunner status in Iowa and New Hampshire polling. The answer is he did great.
The two new questions deal with Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar. One is a good question the other is bad and only time and public opinion will provide the answers. On to winners and losers and there were both.
Pete Buttigieg – I’ll lead off with Mayor Pete. He wasn’t attacked as much as anticipated (except interestingly by Tulsi Gabbard, more on her below). He had another good debate. Pete seems to handle any question with an intelligent policy type answer not spin.
Amy Klobuchar – Wow! Did she have a great night! She also had the two best lines during a night that was very much an appeal to (or recognition of) the importance of the women’s vote especially to Democrats. The line that brought the house down was, “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does every single day.” The other, which did not receive nearly the same reaction, was a slam at Trump about the worth of poker chips in a bankrupt casino.
I had felt that Senator Klobuchar, who is languishing in the polls, was simply hanging around to enhance her chances of the Veep slot or being named Attorney General if the Democrats win. I now have to wonder if she has propelled herself back into the race.
Kamala Harris – She turned in a solid debate performance with her somewhat moderate yet acceptably progressive stances. She had the good fortune to be the next speaker after Gabbard’s first utterances and firmly slapped her down.
Elizabeth Warren – The Massachusetts Senator turned in a solid if not sterling performance. The moderators being able to control the candidates helped her since she didn’t have to get into details of programs that cannot be explained in 75 or 45 seconds.
Joe Biden – I like and have the utmost respect for Joe but he looked shaky Wednesday night. He seemed to have problems getting things out of his mouth, (the word is that he had a stuttering problem years ago that he is sensitive about). More concerning was his mixing up of names and the gaffe about the “Only black Senator” when he incorrectly thought he said “First black Senator”.
Bernie Sanders – Bernie was Bernie and as we learned in 2016 that is not enough.
Tom Steyer – I personally have a problem with his obsession with term limits. Tom we already have them; they are called elections. In his second act on the national stage he showed he is a one trick pony who simply plays to the camera and relies too heavily on canned lines.
Tulsi Gabbard – She was the biggest loser of the night by a country mile! Most of the time her answers either didn’t make sense or canned lines that really said nothing. What was she thinking with her attacks on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment? Didn’t she realize she was in a Democratic debate? She sounded like a softer spoken, better looking Jim Jordan; and that is not a compliment.
Cory Booker – Booker had another decent debate and has a big field operation in Iowa; why isn’t he getting more traction? He is tall, good looking, knowledgeable and smart; not requirement but desirable trait in a candidate. Booker has a dilemma the other Senators in the race don’t. His seat is up in 2020. The idea of ticket balancing is being talked about in knowledgeable political operative circles. If a white woman is the nominee he would be a particularly attractive running mate. If he drops out and runs for reelection he is effectively out of the running. Keeping an eye on him in February will be worthwhile. I think he is in through Iowa.
Andrew Yang – Yang gets better as time goes on but I feel he is too far out of the mainstream of even Democratic politics to be on the ticket. Not for the first time, I am suggesting that if the Democratic nominee wins the general they should try to get Yang on their senior staff as an advisor.
No opening statements, great moderators who kept a lid on things and a debate that lasted only a bit over two hours. Two questions opened up and one answered. By far the best debate of the 2020 season.
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