The second round of the Democratic presidential debates wrapped up on Wednesday night and now, with more stringent requirements to make the third debate, some of the candidates tried to claim their last moment in the spotlight.
Those underdogs had a tough assignment since Joe Biden and Kamala Harris picked up where they left off in the first round and quickly clashed with each other. Those two candidates sucked up much of the oxygen but there were moments when the others grabbed the spotlight and tried to make an impact as they looked to break into the top tier.
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers of Wednesday night’s debates.
Joe Biden. After a bad outing in the first debate in Miami, Biden needed to show improvement. Despite being a top target for almost all of the other candidates on the debate stage, Biden was far better than he had been in Miami. While he took some punches from some of the second and third tier candidates, Biden outclassed Kamala Harris in their frequent sparring sessions and looked far better prepared this time out than he had been at the end of June. He also threw a few jabs at President Donald Trump, no small thing since most Democrats want to see more attacks from their candidates against the White House and less towards each other.
Cory Booker. While Biden and Harris were more focused on each other, Booker tried to make his case to primary voters and generally did a solid job. For the most part he avoided the foodfights but his “Kool-Aid” jab at Biden hit home. This performance probably won’t help Booker break into the top tier of candidates but it should give him enough momentum to keep his campaign going in the meantime.
Julian Castro. After two debates, it’s no fluke. Castro is one of the better debaters in the Democratic primary field. He had a good night and, like Booker, should get enough momentum to keep him through the early states even if he is not going to break to the head of the pack. Still, he had a good debate performance before but it didn’t help him.
Tulsi Gabbard. With serious concerns about making the third debate stage, Gabbard needed a good showing and pulled it off. Her attacks on Harris were brutal and made people take notice. Gabbard also did well when she stressed her military credentials and her anti-interventionist foreign policy. Gabbard might have done enough to give her campaign enough of a boost to make that debate.
Michael Bennet. Not a bad night for this dark horse from Colorado but he didn’t exactly excel either. Bennet was sharp on education and policy but he wasn’t memorable. He will have a hard time making it to the third debate but he showed he could hang with some of the leaders of his party.
Jay Inslee. Like Bennet, Inslee’s style did not leave much of an impression. But he was focused on climate change and did score some points when he waded into the filibuster. Still, like Bennet, he is going to have a hard time making the third debate and his campaign won’t exactly get a boost from his showing on Wednesday night.
Andrew Yang. He had more time than he got in Miami and generally did well when he talked about economics. However, some of his answers simply didn’t seem to fit well into 60 second increments and when he touched on other topics, such as foreign policy, he was pretty forgettable. His closing statement about not wearing a tie–which admittedly he pulled off pretty well again–might have helped his fans but probably didn’t bring in new supporters. Still, Yang did not harm do his campaign any harm on Wednesday night.
CNN. While slightly better handled than Tuesday night, this debate went on for two hours and 47 minutes which was even longer than the first one. Hopefully, the next round of debates will be two hours or less especially as the large field starts to dwindle.
Bill de Blasio. The New York City mayor flopped badly on Tuesday night. He was caught flat footed as his rivals pummeled him for not firing police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner. The mayor’s attacks on Biden went nowhere. Simply put, de Blasio was unpleasant and his scowls and constant attacks and interruptions–even drawing rebukes from the moderator–didn’t help him.
Kirsten Gillibrand. Sure, her line about using Clorox on the Oval Office after Trump leaves garnered applause from the party faithful. But her attacks on Biden’s record on women’s issues–which she telegraphed almost a week in advance–simply failed. Even worse, Biden reminded her that she used to cheer him on women‘s issues. “I don’t know what happened, except you’re running for president,” he replied–not what Gillibrand wanted to hear after being accused of changing positions and stances before. She’s having a hard time breaking through and, despite her efforts, nothing changed on Wednesday night.
Kamala Harris. Simply a bad night. After she handled Biden in Miami, expectations were high for the California Democrat and she didn’t meet them. Biden got the better of her this time and Gabbard’s takedown of her record as attorney general of California was fierce. Even worse, Harris didn’t exactly defend herself well. This performance won’t take her out of the top tier by any means but it wasn’t exactly a good showing from her.
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