In Depth

Five key moments from the Democratic debate

Showdown in Atlanta saw US presidential candidates attacking each other on personality rather than policy

A day of dramatic testimony in the ongoing Donald Trump impeachment hearings on Wednesday was followed by the latest Democratic Party primary debate.

The fifth such event, this time in Atlanta, saw ten contenders endure a two-and-a-half-hour grilling on topics ranging from paid maternity leave to US foreign relations. 

Here are five key moments from the fiery political showdown:

Harris and Booker make comebacks

Initially among the favourites to clinch the nomination, senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have faded dramatically.

But last night Harris came out all guns blazing with impassioned answers, and she had a powerful moment when speaking about Democrat voters of colour. “Folks get tired of saying oh thank me for showing up, and say – well, show up for me!” she said, reports Newsweek.

Booker salvaged his campaign with a superb showing in the final 20 minutes. Notably, he brushed off Pete Buttigieg’s attempts to cater to black voters by noting he’s “been one since I turned 18”, says The New York Times.

Gabbard vs everyone

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard failed to read the room, attempting to capitalise on her anti-establishment image by butting heads with anyone who would take her on - and coming off worse every time.

Sparring with Harris over her loyalty to the party, Harris accused Gabbard of “spending four years full-time on Fox News criticising President Obama”, adding that she had “buddied up to Steve Bannon”, says Newsweek.

Gabbard also accused Buttigieg of demonstrating his “inexperience in national security and foreign policy” by saying he was “willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels” - a referencence to Buttigieg’s pledge to partake in “security cooperations” with Mexican authorities.

Buttigieg called the allegation “outlandish”, reports The Hill, before mockingly asking: “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?”

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Biden stumbles

The debate format hasn’t been kind to Joe Biden and the former vice-president continued his habit of mis-speaking and giving rambling answers that were difficult to follow. When responding to a question about the #MeToo movement, he brought up his role in passing the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990s, saying “we have to just change the culture, period, and keep punching at it”, reports BuzzFeed News – a poor choice of words.

He further raised eyebrows by stating “I come out of a black community in terms of my support” - an unusual claim for a white candidate - and later said that he has the endorsement the “only African American woman who’s been elected to the Senate”, referring to Carol Moseley Braun but seemingly forgetting that Kamala Harris was literally on the stage debating him, The Guardian reports. 

Personal quibbles but political harmony

“The great ideological divide in the primary is clear: will the Democratic Party choose a standard-bearer from the left, such as [Elizabeth] Warren or [Bernie] Sanders, or from the centre, such as Biden or Buttigieg?” asks The Hill.

But while the Atlanta debate saw the occasional flare-up between candidates on issues of age, experience and loyalty, the ideological divide appears to be softening, with only a handful of exchanges on long-standing centrist bugbears such as Medicare.

This time around, the focus “shifted to which candidate was best positioned to take on the president”, the BBC adds.

The party has little patience for Tom Steyer

Hedge fund manager Tom Steyer has been something of a wild card in the debates. He has defended billionaires in the face of criticism from Elizabeth Warren, claimed he is the only candidate prioritising the climate crisis and is also pushing for congressional term limits - something Vox calls the “single worst idea” from any of the debates.

His claim that he is the only one who will declare a national emergency over the climate crisis was critically undermined by Biden’s claim that Steyer, through investments made by his company, “was producing more coal mines and producing more coal around the world, according to the press, than all of Great Britain produces” - which NBC reports to be factually accurate.


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