In Depth

Who won the latest Democratic debate?

Joe Biden and Andrew Yang praised for performances but Pete Buttigieg fails to impress

Just 24 hours after US President Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, seven of the Democrats vying to take him on in the 2020 election faced off in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The sixth Democratic primary debate saw Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden sparring on issues ranging from healthcare to the plight of Uighur Muslims in China.

“Almost every candidate received some form of ‘their best debate yet’ commentary from at least one strategist,” The New York Times says. Here is a look at the pundits’ verdicts on each of the presidential hopefuls.

Joe Biden

Most polls have Biden leading the race for the Democratic nomination, and his performance in his latest clash with his rivals looks likely to bolster his top dog status. The Guardian says the former vice president was “more lucid than usual, and also angrier”, and “seemed more agile and effective” than in the previous debates. 

However, “Sanders had a cringey moment when he was asked about former President Barack Obama’s recent remarks that women make better leaders”, says Politico’s Christopher Cadelago. After being reminded that he was the oldest candidate on stage, Sanders replied: “And I’m white as well!”

Elizabeth Warren

A mixed showing from Biden’s closest challenger, with her weakest moment coming when she attempted to spark a debate with Buttigieg, the two-term mayor of a small Indiana city, over the wealth of his donors. Warren said that Buttigieg “recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine”.

Buttigieg hit back hard, claiming that the Massachusetts senator’s “net worth is 100 times mine”, adding: “This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”

But Warren also drew “significant praise for her pithy retort to a question about her age”, says The New York Times.  Replying to a moderator’s comment that she would be the oldest woman elected president, she said: “I’d also be the youngest woman ever elected.”

Bernie Sanders

Sanders’ message and delivery has been so consistent and unchanging across the debates that most pundits find it hard to gauge whether his performances amount to a win or a loss.

CNN’s editor-at-large Chris Cillizza suggests that the LA debate was a poor one for the veteran politician. “My issue with the Vermont senator in this debate is that no matter what question he was asked, he seemed to give the same answer: millionaires and billionaires are destroying this country,” Cillizza says.

“Which, if you support Sanders, is plenty good for you! But, Sanders has to figure out how to expand his coalition. And I don’t think he did that in this debate.”

Pete Buttigieg

The South Bend mayor had a bruising debate - possibly his worst of the campaign so far.

David Siders of Politico, which hosted the debate, says that although the spat between Warren and Buttigieg was more damaging for the former, it’s “just not great for a Democrat when the phrase ‘billionaires in wine caves’ gets played on national TV in reference to one of your campaign events”.

The news site concludes that Buttigieg “had the worst night” of all the candidates.

Amy Klobuchar

With Biden continuing to lead the polls and Buttigieg seemingly gaining momentum, Klobuchar had a clear strategy: go on the offensive.

After a fairly quiet opening hour, the senator for Minnesota launched a fierce attack on Buttigieg by challenging his experience and electability - noting that she has “repeatedly won in conservative parts of Minnesota, while Buttigieg has never won a statewide election”, The New York Times reports.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama, told the newspaper that the exchange was “a significant moment in this primary”, while Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, tweeted that “the Amy-Pete clash went to Klobuchar”.

Andrew Yang

Tech entrepreneur Yang has failed to grab much speaking time in previous debates, but the narrowing of the field to just seven candidates gave him an opportunity to make himself heard on Thursday - and he grabbed it with both hands.

Most pundits agree that Yang made a strong showing, with The Guardian saying that he was “funny and sharp”, and that the smaller field of debaters “allowed him to distinguish himself with some amusing lines... and his signature universal basic income proposal”.

The newspaper argues that Yang had the best answer to impeachment too, telling his fellow Democrats to “stop being obsessed” with the inquiry and encouraging them to “dig in and solve the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place”.

Tom Steyer

Billionaire Steyer had a typically steady - if unspectacular - night, best communicating his stances on climate change and immigration.

Democratic strategist and political commentator Paul Begala says after remaining fairly quiet during the first 90 minutes, Steyer “came to life in the final half hour, blistering Donald Trump on immigration in stark terms”.

The Republican leader “is not against immigration from white people, he is against immigrations from non-white people”, said Steyer, who concluded: “That’s a racial argument from a racist president and it has led him to break the laws of humanity.”


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