The first Democratic Presidential Primary debates were held on June 26th in Miami, Florida. With 10 candidates up on stage, and topics veering wildly between gun control and climate change, the economy and impeachment, the debate was difficult for anyone to follow. So let’s break the night down, candidate by candidate.

 

A note on polling: The numbers which appear in parentheses next to each candidate are their pre and post debate support, according to a poll conducted by FiveThirtyEight and Morning Consult, found in the sources for this article under [1]

 

Rep.Tim Ryan (0.1-1.1%): The long serving representative of Ohio’s 13th district spent the night playing up his Rust Belt credentials, speaking at length about America’s “forgotten people”, and the manufacturing crisis caused by automation and outsourcing. Rep. Ryan is the author of a book on meditation and mindfulness, and seemed to draw on this background during a question about school shootings, by emphasizing trauma care and mental health resources. All in all, he seemed to be having a good night for a candidate who had been polling so low, but he was savaged by Rep. Gabbard after stating that he believed the US should remain in Afghanistan, and falsely insinuating that the Taliban had been directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. All in all, however, he was able to introduce himself to the electorate in spectacular fashion, and present a strong argument to a Democratic party anxious to reclaim the midwest.

 

Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (0.4-0.5%): The representative from Hawaii’s 2nd district had a good night, being the most searched candidate [2] on Google after the debate, an important distinction for the largely unknown candidate. Rep. Gabbard served in Iraq, and has oriented her campaign around a message of bringing the troops home. She scored a lot of points in this vein when the conversation turned to Iran, and during the aforementioned Afghanistan spat, even bringing it up during completely unrelated questions. She was able to defuse criticism about her early opposition to gay marriage by speaking about her service with LGBTQ+ people in Iraq. 

 

Fmr Rep. John Delaney (0.2-0.4%): The former representative from Maryland’s 6th district has been running for president since 2017 on a message of bipartisanship and moderation, and continued that trend, mounting a rigorous defence of private insurance, carbon taxes, and bipartisanship while attempting to pour cold water on other people’s “false promises”. However he was largely stymied by the time constraints of the debate, and many of his stories simply didn’t resonate in the current progressive environment, feeling quaint and outdated, something out of 2009, not 2019. Two years in, Delaney simply can’t seem to catch a break.

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio (0.2-0.5%): Mayor of New York City (NYC), de Blasio entered the debates on perhaps the worst footing of any candidate, being heavily disliked across the field, and even within his own city[3]. This just meant that he had nothing to lose, and he certainly acted like it, interrupting other candidates during their speeches, and being the only candidate other than Sen. Warren to advocate for abolishing private insurance. He constantly spoke on how the Democrats must be “the party of the working people” again, and touted his own experience as Mayor of the country’s biggest city. Mayor de Blasio’s path to the nomination is still exceedingly narrow, but he has capitalized on this debate to raise his public profile.

 

Gov. Jay Inslee (0.3-0.5%): Governor of Oregon, Jay Inslee was widely considered the “Climate Change Candidate”, having been a personal proponent of the issue for years, and released plenty of detailed plans. However during the debates he ranged widely outside of that niche, instead focusing on his personal experience with getting laws passed as a progressive governor, and his confrontations with the President. The Governor was able to use his limited time during the debate to flex his executive muscles, and bolster his “Presidential” image, though he didn’t have any standout moments. 

 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar ( 0.4-0.9%): The senior Senator from Minnesota came into the debate as a heavy hitter, having earned a reputation as a no nonsense moderate who wasn’t going to sell you any false promises, and who won by large margins in a purple state. However the Senator seemed to change tack for the debate, trying to soften her image instead of leaning into it as she had previously, and appearing uncomfortable  when not debating on kitchen table issues. She portrayed herself as a “realistic progressive”, supporting free community college instead of free college, for example. She did however, successfully make her electability argument, pounding her potential success against Trump in key swing states.

 

Fmr Sec. Julian Castro (0.3-2.1%): The former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary for President Obama, and the only Latinx candidate in the race, Castro had a standout night, introducing himself to the nation with a well put together medley of statements that managed to appeal to everyone without saying much specific. He was the only candidate with a specific and detailed immigration plan, and laid into Fmr Rep. O’Rourke on that issue, establishing himself as the undisputed thought leader of the party when it comes to the border.Castro avoided being pigeonholed as strictly “the Latino candidate” by only speaking in Spanish near the end of the debate. He was name checked on stage by Sen. Booker, and avoided by Sen. Warren, establishing himself as a contender, and even if he doesn’t capture the nomination, he’ll likely be first in line for the VP spot.  

 

Fmr Rep. Beto O’Rourke (3.8-2.8%): The former representative from Texas’ 16th district, best known for his 2018 Senate campaign started strong, beginning his first question in Spanish, and demonstrating his exceptional speaking skills throughout. However he was never able to distinguish himself on any specific policy or issue, and though he was rhetorically strong, he had trouble giving specific answers to questions, and lost a major confrontation with Castro over immigration, an issue he was trying to establish leadership over. He made extensive reference to youth activists, like those involved in the Green New Deal (which shockingly went unmentioned throughout the debate), the Parkland kids, and the mothers fighting for abortion rights. That same swell of activism was what carried him through his Senate campaign, so he may have been hoping to capitalize on that same youth support to win the nomination. Ultimately though, he did poorly, failing to present any concrete argument, and losing his one major confrontation. 

 

Sen. Cory Booker (3.2-4.1%): The Senator from New Jersey, and one of the few Black senators, Cory Booker won big, speaking the most words of any of the candidates, according to the live transcript. He was able to introduce himself to a large swath of voters with his “happy warrior” messages about American values, and his hard hitting personal accounts of life in inner city Newark. He was the second candidate to speak in Spanish, and skillfully redirected questions to other candidates by jumping in on the end with an addendum from his own platform. He avoided taking any particularly controversial stances, but still appeared strong with his focus on racial justice and values. Booker’s campaign before the debates looked to be floundering, but he’s reintroduced himself to the American people, and reinvigorated his chances.

 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (12.2-18.1%): The Senator from Massachusetts entered the debate strong, and left stronger, ensconcing her position in the top three, or even the top two candidates in the primary. She opened the debate with a fiery and well articulated statement about how the current economy has failed the vast majority of Americans, a populist message that set the tone for the entire first half of the debates. Sen. Warren followed up strong with messages from her dozens of released plans, and a powerful indictment of the wealthy and powerful who have been allowed a free hand in every sector of American life. She ended the first half in a dominant position on the economy, healthcare, and antitrust, all the kitchen table issues. From then on she hung back, passing on the more social issues, but still delivering on issues of gun violence and Republican obstructionism. She finished the debate with an excerpt from her biography, growing up in poverty in Oklahoma and struggling to pay for college, ending with a promise to the American people that she would fight for them as hard as she would for her own family. 

 

This debate was the American people’s first introduction to many of these candidates, and some introduced themselves better than others. Beto’s star has begun to fall, while Booker and Castro are rising. Warren  was able to maintain and increase her polling lead, which should worry the candidates for the second debate. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will take the stage for the second night, which should have plenty more outright confrontation between the two frontrunners. Stay tuned!

 

Sources:

[1]https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/democratic-debate-poll/

 

[2]https://thehill.com/homenews/media/450601-gabbard-is-most-searched-on-google-after-democratic-debate

 

[3]https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-bill-de-blasio-could-win-the-2020-democratic-primary/