Thursday’s Democratic presidential primary debate was a dramatic one, with Kamala Harris going after Joe Biden on race, and Bernie Sanders declaring that President Donald Trump is a “phony.” A self-help guru squared off against a former vice president. A small-town mayor squared off against U.S. senators.
It was quite a debate.
Who do you think won tonight’s Democratic debate? You can vote in Heavy’s poll at the end of this article. The poll consists of the 10 candidates who were on the stage Thursday. (If you want to vote on who won Wednesday’s debate, you can do that here.)
On June 27, 2019, half of the 20 Democrats who are seeking the Democratic nomination took the stage in Miami, Florida. They advocated for healthcare for undocumented immigrants, decried assault weapons, and said that the economy is not working for many Americans.
Thursday’s candidates didn’t waste any time in going after President Donald Trump.
“Trump is a phony, a pathological liar, and a racist,” Bernie Sanders said during the debate. “President Trump you’re not standing up for working families.” The candidates focused on the economy as the debate began; “This economy is not working for working people,” Kamala Harris said. “You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out,” said self-help guru Marianne Williamson, speaking directly to Trump. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke about student loan debt.
The first Democratic debate was split over two days because so many Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination to get President Donald Trump out of office. First, 10 randomly selected candidates took the stage on Wednesday night. Although chosen randomly, they came across as a sort-of second tier slate of candidates because polling heavyweights Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders ended up on Thursday together.
In what some are calling the debate’s defining moment, Kamala Harris spoke directly to Biden, who has led in the polls.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said, directing her comments toward Biden. “…But I also believe and it’s personal and …it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country… you also worked with them to oppose busing…and, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day and that little girl was me. So, I will tell you that on this subject it can not be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly.” (Harris is the daughter of immigrants; her father is from Jamaica and her mother was from India. You can read more about her family background here.)
When it was his turn to talk, Biden accused Harris of “mischaracterizing my position across the board. I didn’t praise racists.” Biden mentioned that, early in his career, he chose to be a public defender, not a prosecutor.
“Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America? Do you agree?” Harris asked.
Biden added, “I did not oppose busing in America. I opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education.” He repeatedly referred to the ability of Harris to be bused to school as a child as a “local” decision by a city council.
“There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America,” Harris continued.
Biden then launched into a defense of his record on race overall. He said, “I have supported the ERA from the beginning. I’m the guy who defended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. I have argued very strongly that we deal with the notion of denying people access to ballot box.”
The candidates decried family separations at the border. Self-help guru Marianne Williamson said, “If you forcibly take a child from a parent’s arms, you are kidnapping them…this is collective child abuse…these are state-sponsored crimes.”
The candidates on Wednesday were: Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan.
On Thursday night, the following candidates took the stage to debate: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. As the presumed frontrunner due to polling, it was expected that Biden would spend a lot of time defending his record. It was interesting, to say the least, to see him square off against lesser known upstarts like Yang and Williamson.
Presidential debates are a big deal because they put lesser known candidates in the spotlight, giving them each a chance to break through in the public’s imagination (like Trump and his rallies did in 2015-2016 with conservatives.) For a candidate leading in polling, like Biden, there is more to lose (and little to gain from a debate, really, other than solidifying positioning.)
A few candidates didn’t make the debate stage cut either day; according to Vox, they are: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.
How were the debate lineups chosen? This time around, the Democratic National Committee decided to not only use polling. Instead, a more complicated calculation looked at donors as well as polling (that was a good decision for, say, a candidate like Bill de Blasio.
According to Vox, both the first and second half of the first Democratic presidential debate aired from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern time. The debate was hosted by NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. Vox reports that the day the candidates were assigned was chosen randomly. However, according to Denver.com, candidates were chosen by the Democratic National Committee on the basis of whether they had 65,000 donors or “have at least 1 percent of the vote in a series of polls.”
CNN reported that candidates haven’t had as many appearances lately because they’d been so busy preparing for the debate. The challenge for voters (and moderators) and getting enough time to listen to the positions of any one candidate due to the enormous size of the field.
“At the end of the day, you got 10 people each night in a two-hour block. Until the race sort of narrows down, you’re not really going to have, I think, a lot of substantive back-and-forth between the candidates. Just because there’s not enough time to do it,” said Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders, in an interview with CNN.
Here’s Heavy’s poll, so you can pick the candidate you thought won the debate on June 27, 2019: