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September Democratic Debate: Live updates from Houston

NBC News' live blog with the top coverage of the third democratic primary debate for the 2020 presidential election hosted by ABC in Texas on September 12, 2019.
Image: Democratic Debate Live Blog
Adrian Lam / NBC News

The 10 leading Democratic candidates faced off on the same stage for the first time in Houston Thursday night. Health care, education, trade, racial inequality, immigration and gun control were once again front and center. Read on for the biggest moments, fact-checks and analysis.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the third Democratic debate.

Fact check: Would Biden's health care plan leave 10 million uncovered?

1028d ago / 1:33 AM UTC

“The problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered,” Castro said during Thursday’s debate, criticizing Biden's health care proposal.

This is mostly true, according to the text of Biden's own plan. His plan estimates that his expansion of the Affordable Care Act would insure "more than an estimated 97 percent of Americans."

There’s an estimated 327 million people living in America; 3 percent of the population is approximately 10 million. Estimates on the number of non-citizens vary and it's unclear how Biden's proposal would affect immigrant communities in practice, which could change these numbers. Still, Biden has said he wants to give everyone a chance to be covered.

Gun restrictions have broad support

1028d ago / 1:32 AM UTC

As Democrats debate some new gun restrictions, some of their proposals will fall on receptive ears among Democratic primary voters — and among many voters who aren't Democrats as well. 

An August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that:

  • Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 97 percent of Democratic primary voters support expanding background checks to all firearm sales and transfers.
  • Sixty-two percent of all Americans and 87 percent of Democratic primary voters support banning the sale of selected semi-automatic firearms referred to as assault weapons.
  • And three quarters of all Americans and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters support a voluntary program where the government would buy back firearms that people no longer want.

What's not popular: Only a quarter of Americans back a ban on the sale of all handguns. 

Vice deporter-in-chief?

1028d ago / 1:30 AM UTC

The Obama administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous administration, earning Obama the moniker "deporter in chief" among some immigrant rights groups.

Asked during the debate if the Obama administration made a mistake deporting so many people, Biden distanced himself from the results of Obama-era immigration policy. Biden also described the administration’s deportation and detention practices as the work of a former president doing his best, and described Obama’s immigration policy as entirely different from that of the Trump administration’s practice of separating families and placing detainees in cages. 

During the Obama years, unaccompanied child migrants and entire families with children were housed in facilities that included cages.

Image: Jeh Johnson
NOGALES, Ariz. - Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center-left, visits the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Nogales Placement Center with Governor Jan Brewer and Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino in Nogales, Ariz. on June 25, 2014.Barry Bahler / DHS

However, one major difference between the Obama and Trump administrations, recognized by most human rights advocates, is that the Trump administration has held individuals, including children, in detention for longer periods of time. 

The Trump administration has also taken legal steps to eliminate court orders restricting the period of time a child can be held in detention and what health or sanitary supplies the government is obligated to provide to those in immigrant detention.

The pack shines

1028d ago / 1:30 AM UTC
Democratic presidential hopefuls New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders gesture during the third Democratic primary debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images

A lot of the hype coming into tonight was in having Biden, Warren and Sanders — the three front-runners — on the same stage. But the seven other candidates have been solid, at times taking up major chunks of the debate without a word from the top three.

Fact check: Klobuchar says three gun control bills are waiting 'on Mitch McConnell’s desk'

1028d ago / 1:27 AM UTC

Klobuchar poked at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for inaction on gun control measures, saying that the Kentucky Republican has three bills on his desk right now: "Universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, and passing my bill to make sure domestic abusers don’t get AK-47s.”

This is true — but all three bills face an unclear, if not flat-out bleak, fate in the GOP-controlled Senate.

In February, the Democratic-controlled House passed a law closing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows the sale of a firearm if a background check is not completed within three days. It’s a loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to obtain the weapon he used to murder nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. 

In March, the House passed a bill that would expand background checks for gun purchases to include buys made at gun shows, online and other private sales. And in April, the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with new language that would close the so-called boyfriend loophole. Under current law, it is illegal for spouses or ex-spouses who have been convicted of abuse or who are under a restraining order to buy a gun. But the law doesn’t apply to romantic partners who aren’t legally married. 

Warren and Sanders split over Senate rules

1028d ago / 1:24 AM UTC

Warren said as president she'd get rid of the filibuster — a move the president can influence but only members of the chamber have a vote on — to advance gun-control legislation. She framed the filibuster, which allows a minority of 41 senators to stop legislation, as corrupt. 

But Sanders said he does not favor eliminating the tool, which both liberal and conservative senators have long used against majorities, even though it could be a major obstacle to his Medicare for All health care plan if he wins the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate.

Sanders has instead said that he would use a parliamentary process called "reconciliation" for a Medicare for All bill and refashion the chamber’s rules around that if necessary.

Beto gets the home-state love

1028d ago / 1:24 AM UTC

It helps to be the home-state candidate, and tonight’s debate has been especially beneficial for Texan Beto O’Rourke, who has been praised by much of the entire field for his handling of the El Paso shootings. 

Fellow-Texan Julián Castro praised O’Rourke when he received a question about racism and the El Paso shootings. So did Joe Biden. And Kamala Harris. And Cory Booker.

Castro calls Biden on flip-flopping on Obama’s legacy

1028d ago / 1:21 AM UTC

Castro really went after Biden hard after the former vice president was questioned about the administration’s immigration policy. Castro, who served as HUD secretary under Obama, used the moment to hit Biden for "taking credit" for the good under Obama and distancing himself from the criticism of the administration.

What to watch for is how his attacks might help Castro in the polls by attacking the front-runner.

Image: Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston
Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, on Sept. 12, 2019.Mike Blake / Reuters

'Gun violence is not a side issue for me'

1028d ago / 1:18 AM UTC

Booker reminded Democrats of their minority base when he pointed out that "gun violence is not a side issue for me" because more people die daily in communities like his than in mass shootings.

Without that empathy, the issue won’t be solved, Booker said. 


Bernie pivots from guns to lobbying

1028d ago / 1:17 AM UTC

Bernie uses the discussion about gun violence to pivot to one of his most consistent talking points: the lobbying that goes on in Washington. He equates the gun lobby to big pharma, and notes he got an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association.

More of what the candidates are saying ... but in one sentence.

1028d ago / 1:16 AM UTC

Beto praised for El Paso response

1028d ago / 1:12 AM UTC

In a respite from the sparring, the former Texas congressman was consistently praised by his competitors — Biden, Harris and Booker — about how he handled the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso.

Beto: 'Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47'

1028d ago / 1:12 AM UTC

The debate highlights a significant shift on guns within the party since recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. 

After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, O’Rourke came out for a mandatory buyback of so-called assault weapons along with a ban, an idea that’s been praised by Harris since then as well. "Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said in the debate.

A similar policy was implemented in Australia after a mass shooting in 1996, but the idea had next to no backing among major American gun advocacy groups or politicians until 2018, when former presidential candidate Congressman Eric Swalwell introduced a mandatory buyback plan. 

Gun experts still have concerns about implementation, however, especially as gun rights activists warn that owners may refuse to turn in their weapons in protest. Biden and Klobuchar have suggested voluntary buybacks instead, a much less far-reaching idea sometimes done at the local level. 

Booker also repeated his call for a licensing program for gun owners, an idea that’s been proposed in the past and already exists at the state level for some firearms, but had fallen out of favor among national politicians until recently. 

Fact check: Booker says African Americans are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated

1028d ago / 1:10 AM UTC

Booker, talking about a "savagely broken" criminal justice system, said, “African Americans are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated” than other Americans.

He's right — in fact, it’s more than four times when it comes to white Americans. 

According to the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated more than five times the rate of whites. And according to a 2018 analysis by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit and research group, African Americans are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites.

Klobuchar avoids question on police accountability

1028d ago / 1:10 AM UTC

Klobuchar served as the lead prosecutor of Minnesota’s largest county for eight years beginning in 1999. During that period, Klobuchar declined to prosecute a single police officer in questionable shootings or uses of force. Klobuchar instead routinely put these case before grand juries which rarely indict police officers, Minneapolis Public Radio reported in March.

Asked about this pattern on the debate stage Thursday, Klobuchar described the question's content as inaccurate, then made reference to cases she prosecuted involving black child victims injured or killed by private citizens. 

Conflating street crime and questions of police conduct, as well as challenging calls for police accountability with claims that insufficient attention is paid to injuries and deaths caused by criminals, is a go-to conservative strategy.

Groundhog Day in Houston

1028d ago / 1:07 AM UTC

Tonight’s debate was supposed to stand out because it’s the first featuring 10 candidates on one night — and it’s the first with Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren on the same stage. 

But nearly one hour into it, what is really standing out is how similar it sounds to the previous two rounds of debates: an opening clash over health care, the divide between progressives and pragmatists and pointed questions on race.

One significant difference between tonight’s debate and the others is that it comes after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton — something the candidates touched on, including Texans Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro.

But many of the other questions could have been asked at the previous debates.

And they were.

Attack tracker update: One hour in

1028d ago / 1:05 AM UTC

One hour in, Trump has been attacked 11 times. As for the candidates, it’s a tie: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have been attacked the most and have given the most attacks.

Biden: Only violent criminals should be in jail

1028d ago / 1:02 AM UTC

Biden opened some eyes when he said "nobody should be in jail for a non-violent crime." It was a noteworthy comment from someone who led the 1994 crime bill through the Senate — a piece of legislation he's repeatedly come under fire for.

Additionally, it would be surprising if Biden really felt that white collar, non-violent criminals like Bernie Madoff should not be imprisoned for their wrongdoing.

On a first-name basis

1028d ago / 1:00 AM UTC

Biden calls O’Rourke "Beto," then quickly apologizes.

It's reminiscent of the 2008 VP debate between Biden and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who kicked off the debate by asking him, "Can I call you Joe?"

Will Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor continue to dog her?

1028d ago / 12:57 AM UTC

Since launching her campaign, Harris has been dogged by questions about her record as California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney. Young black left-leaning voters have expressed skepticism of her background, but Harris continues to call herself a "progressive prosecutor" and say she took on the role to work on criminal justice from the inside.

The lawmaker, however, did get a round of applause inside the debate hall at the historically black college when she said that she would end for-profit prisons on day one.

Image: Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston
Sen. Kamala Harris from California speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.Mike Blake / Reuters

Biden claims Sanders' health care plan would cost twice the federal budget. That's false.

1028d ago / 12:56 AM UTC

Drawing a contrast between his health care plan and Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan, Biden said, “My plan for health care costs $740 billion dollars, it doesn’t cost $30 trillion dollars. $3.4 trillion a year, turns out, is twice what the entire federal budget is, that’s before it exists now, without interest on the debt."

Biden's math is off. While Medicare For All could cost $3.4 trillion a year, according to one estimate, the federal budget is larger: in 2018, the federal budget was $4.1 trillion, including $300 billion going toward interest. 

Additionally, Biden's campaign estimates the cost of the candidate's plan at $750 billion over a decade, while estimates have put the cost of Sanders' plan at $32 trillion or more over a decade.

NBC/WSJ poll shows split on racially motivated mass shootings

1028d ago / 12:56 AM UTC

In August, after the El Paso attack, the NBC/WSJ poll asked Americans how worried they are that "the United States will experience another mass shooting or attack by white nationalists, targeting people based on their color or country of origin." 

Among all Americans, 68 percent said they were very or fairly worried. 

But there's a huge partisan divide on this question. 

Among Democratic primary voters, 91 percent said they're worried, while just 36 percent of Republican primary voters said the same. Sixty percent of Republican primary voters said they were just slightly worried or not worried at all.

Harris nicely turns tough question

1028d ago / 12:55 AM UTC

Harris took a tough question on her record on crime and prosecution and pivoted it to push her newly released reform plan. 

It started with a bit of fun. After a question asking why she didn’t do more when she had the chance in California — a question that drew some applause — Harris paused and said she was glad that the question was asked.

She then touted her experience as having provided her the experience to implement real change.

Yang knows a lot of doctors? What?

1028d ago / 12:51 AM UTC

Yang’s claim that "I'm Asian so I know a lot of doctors" doesn’t make sense — unless you’re going to play into Asian American stereotypes. A sick person knows a lot of doctors but no particular race gets a claim on knowing more physicians by default. 

O’Rourke endorses reparations study bill

1028d ago / 12:49 AM UTC

The issue of reparations surfaced again in the Democratic primary debate.

After describing the United States as a nation that built its wealth and ongoing economic dominance through the exploitation of of slaves, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke told debate viewers he would, as president, back a bill introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, in January. It calls for a commission to consider reparations proposals.

Democratic support for Obamacare hit new high this month

1028d ago / 12:48 AM UTC

Castro makes auto-enrollment in health care an issue

1028d ago / 12:47 AM UTC

Castro and Biden got into a spat over whether their plans would automatically enroll people in a public plan. Biden insisted his plan did, and it does include a feature that automatically enrolls people in a public option who interact with anti-poverty programs like SNAP, but it’s not as far-reaching as some of the other public option plans in this regard.

Medicare For All, backed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would automatically cover all residents. 

Debate devolves into a fight about fighting

1028d ago / 12:45 AM UTC

After Castro took some seriously strong shots at Biden, Buttigieg jumped in to say moments like that were why the debates were becoming unwatchable. Castro hit back, saying that’s what elections are about. Then Klobuchar jumped in to side with Buttigieg.

Anyways, at the end of this, Yang had a chance to speak. He said everyone on stage has a better plan than Trump and, pointing to his own health care knowledge, said, "I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors," as part of his answer.

Castro hits Biden hard: 'Are you forgetting what you were saying?'

1028d ago / 12:42 AM UTC

Castro excoriated Biden during a debate over the former vice president’s health care plan, telling him that he is not carrying the legacy of President Obama by not expanding access to more Americans, basically building off of Obamacare.

This was a standout moment because Castro has been stagnant in the polls. He was particularly strong hitting Biden, even reminding people of Biden’s gaffes by saying, "Are you forgetting what you were saying?"

Meghan McCain responds after Harris invokes ‘late great John McCain’

1028d ago / 12:41 AM UTC

Meghan McCain responded after Harris paid homage to her late father, Sen. John McCain, while she spoke about the Affordable Care Act.

Fact check: Studies show Medicare For All costs less than the current system


1028d ago / 12:41 AM UTC

Sanders, amid a contentious back-and-forth about "Medicare for All" with Biden and Warren, said that "every study done shows that 'Medicare for All' is the most cost-effective approach for providing health care to every man woman and child in this country."

This isn't true. A handful of studies do show Sanders' plan to be a more cost-effective alternative to the current system — but even more indicate the opposite. Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would insure an additional 28 million people, so it’d be a huge selling point if it was also cheaper than the current system. 

But of five major Medicare for All studies reviewed in detail by The New York Times, just two found overall health care expenditures would be lower than current costs. And what's more, there are sizable variables that could affect the math should his plan be implemented.

Disunity over unity

1028d ago / 12:40 AM UTC

After Castro goes after Biden, Buttigieg calls for unity. Castro hits back, saying this is how debates go. Klobuchar says a house divided cannot stand. 

Game on.

Bill Weld uses Houston faceoff to renew call for GOP debate

1028d ago / 12:40 AM UTC

As Democrats tangle tonight on the debate stage, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is running against President Trump in the Republican primary, is piggybacking off the event to call for primary debates in his own party.

So far, Trump has shown no indication that he'll debate the three Republicans running against him. And a handful of state Republican parties are shuttering their primaries, arguing that none of Trump's challengers are legitimate enough to necessitate a primary.

No mention of HBCUs

1028d ago / 12:40 AM UTC

The ABC debate is hosted at Texas Southern University, a historically black college, but no candidate has mentioned it despite the fact that both Harris and Warren released plans to pour billions into black colleges, which have been struggling financially. The other candidates have also made supportive statements about protecting historically black colleges and universities.

Harris turning focus onto Trump

1028d ago / 12:38 AM UTC

Harris, who made her name in the first debate (and got a significant bump) for going after Biden, has stayed away from attacking Biden and other Dems in her opening statement and initial answer in this ongoing healthcare debate, hitting Trump both times. Among the other candidates on the stage, Trump’s name has barely been whispered.

Biden, Warren, Sanders spar on 'Medicare for All' versus public option

1028d ago / 12:35 AM UTC

The candidates are going at it on heath care again, with Vice President Joe Biden talking up his $750 billion plan to add a public option for insurance and boost subsidies, versus a single-payer "Medicare for All" plan backed by Sanders and Warren that replaces all existing private plans and eliminates premiums, deductibles, and almost all out-of-pocket expenses. 

Biden challenged his rivals on cost: Sanders and Warren haven’t fully said how they’ll pay for their version, but Sanders puts the price tag at $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years. But they argued the overall savings for most families, factoring in their current expenses on health care, will go down even if taxes go up elsewhere. 

Klobuchar, Buttigieg and O’Rourke challenged them on disruption, saying it would force people out of their employer insurance. Sanders and Warren argue it will provide better access to their doctors by consolidating the current system into one comprehensive  plan. 

Want to learn more about Medicare for All? We have an issue page with an explainer and all the candidates positions here

And if you want to learn a little more about where Biden’s plan and other candidates’ fit within the various public option proposals in the race, check our coverage here.

Healthcare for all, not a new idea

1028d ago / 12:34 AM UTC

Americans have debated the merits of universal health care for nearly 75 years.

President Harry Truman, a Democrat, first proposed health care for all in 1945

Sanders' scratchy voice a result of busy campaign schedule campaign says

1028d ago / 12:34 AM UTC

The Sanders campaign acknowledges that the Vermont senator has a hoarse voice tonight, something that reporters covering him first noticed on Monday in Denver. However, they say that he is not sick and that the hoarseness is a result of a busy schedule last weekend when he had four visits to college campuses and bars through Iowa.

Klobuchar slams Bernie: 'I read the bill'

1028d ago / 12:34 AM UTC

Klobuchar got a round of applause after she went after Sanders over his health care plan. She slammed Bernie for saying he "wrote the damn bill" by saying she actually "read the bill," noting that under his bill a lot of Americans could lose coverage. 

Castro's blue Texas just a dream?

1028d ago / 12:31 AM UTC

The possibility of turning Texas blue was a key point in former Housing Secretary Julián Castro’s opening statement. 

Texas, a state dominated by Democrats until the 1990s, has not always been a Republican stronghold. But a wave of conservative victories transformed the state into one where Republicans have long held almost all state-wide offices and the majority in the state’s legislature.

However, the state’s demographic makeup — nearly 60 percent of the state’s population is Latino, black or Asian — and the Republican Party’s swing toward a more extreme right has renewed hope that Texas could become a swing state or even reliably Democratic in the future.

Warren praises Obama during health care pitch

1028d ago / 12:24 AM UTC

Your bathroom break schedule

1028d ago / 12:23 AM UTC

If you’re planning to be with us for the long haul, here’s a few hints on when you can take a break, courtesy of New York Times media reporter Michael Grynbaum.

We're live-tracking all the attacks at the debate tonight

1028d ago / 12:22 AM UTC

NBC News is tracking how many times each candidate attacks, criticizes or calls out another candidate during the debate. The graphic also indexes the number of times the candidates attack Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Wall Street and corporations, and the “ultra-rich.”

Candidates take aim at Trump in opening remarks

1028d ago / 12:21 AM UTC

Castro, Klobuchar, Harris and Sanders all used the first moments of their opening remarks to talk directly to the camera about President Donald Trump. Castro and Sanders called him dangerous, Klobuchar said he’s “running our country like  a game show," and Harris made the case for prosecuting Trump and quipped, “Now you can go back to watching Fox News,” aiming her remarks at Trump who has weighed in on the past debates.

Unity among the candidates... for now

1028d ago / 12:18 AM UTC

Opening statements have stressed the need to defeat Trump and touched on the themes the candidates share. 

But with all the frontrunners on the stage together for the first time, we’ll see if that feeling of unity can last for three full hours.

Warren claps after Harris' Trump remarks

1028d ago / 12:17 AM UTC

Yang's big surprise: explained

1028d ago / 12:17 AM UTC

Andrew Yang's promised "big" surprise at Thursday night's debate could be huge for 10 families.

The entrepreneur — who'd vowed to do something never before seen on a debate stage — went full Oprah, promising to pay $1,000 a month to 10 random American families for a year.

"I’m going to do something unprecedented tonight,” Yang said. “My campaign is now going to give a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month to 10 American families for an entire year, someone watching this at home right now.”

The recipient will be chosen in an online raffle.

"Freedom dividends" are the linchpin of Yang's surprising campaign — he's proposing that the government should pay every American over the age of 18 a non string attached $1,000 a month.

Klobuchar opens with swing at Warren

1028d ago / 12:13 AM UTC

Klobuchar appeared to take the first indirect swipe at Warren in her opening statement Thursday.

Projecting herself as a choice for Democrats who want something other than the ideological extremes, Klobuchar played off of Warren's "I’ve got a plan for that" refrain without mentioning her fellow senator by name.

"I’ve got a better way," Klobuchar said.

Mayor Pete jokes about Yang’s cash giveaway

1028d ago / 12:13 AM UTC

Buttigieg took a brief pause after Yang announced his contest to give $12,000 to 10 Americans, before joking, “It’s original, I’ll give you that.” Just beforehand, Klobuchar was seen giggling after Yang’s announcement.

Yang has repeatedly cited Alaska as his model for UBI

1028d ago / 12:09 AM UTC

Yang announced a contest on stage for 10 people to win $12,000. In campaigning, he's repeatedly cited Alaska's model for "Universal Basic Income" as evidence that his "Freedom Dividend" would work. Here's more on that.

Beto centers opening statement on El Paso shooting

1028d ago / 12:09 AM UTC

O’Rourke made August’s El Paso shooting central to his opening statement. Taking place in his hometown, the tragedy has played a major role in his campaign over the past month.

Klobuchar takes the 'Apollo 13' line

1028d ago / 12:08 AM UTC

Someone was going to do it, and Klobuchar went ahead and grabbed the early initiative. When referring to the president, she offered the classic line: "Houston, we have a problem."

NBC News Digital correspondent and Houston resident Mike Hixenbaugh was... not impressed.

Buttigieg spending big on Facebook

1028d ago / 12:06 AM UTC

Mayor Pete is making major Facebook buys.

Buttigieg has aggressively ramped up his spending on the social network, according to the company's ads archive. Rob Goldman, vice president of ads at Facebook, tweeted out that Buttigieg had been the top political ad spender from Sept. 4 to 10, dropping more than $438,000.

And it wasn't close. He doubled the deep-pocketed Tom Steyer and and tripled Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic candidates take the stage

1028d ago / 12:04 AM UTC
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Third Debate In Houston
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto ORourke, former housing secretary Julian Castro appear on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on Sept. 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Joe Biden tops in Google searches

1028d ago / 11:58 PM UTC

Former Vice President Joe Biden is currently the most Googled Democratic candidate — but he hasn't been in that position long. 

Data from Google Trends shows that a variety of candidates have occupied the top spot at various points in 2019, including at least one candidate who isn't on tonight's debate stage (ahem, Marianne Williamson). 

Check out the animation below to track the candidates search ranks.

OPINION: The Democratic debate format always emphasizes policy. But presidents don't legislate.

1028d ago / 11:52 PM UTC

Every recent president has campaigned on big legislative efforts that never came to fruition because Congress wasn’t interested. Yet every recent presidential debate has seen the moderators zeroed in on the details of candidates’ legislative proposals, doing voters a disservice.

If earlier debates are any indication, a hefty amount of time during Thursday’s pared-down third Democratic debate will be spent on the details of the candidates’ various legislative plans — particularly health care, which tops the list of policy priorities for Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in surveys like Pew’s.

More on that here.

How do you really feel about the 2020 candidates?

1028d ago / 11:51 PM UTC

Write your own confession about the 2020 election, the Democratic candidates on tonight's debate stage, the state of the country and more — anonymously. 

Andrew Yang is getting in ‘Formation’ for tonight

1028d ago / 11:47 PM UTC

Yang was prepping for the Democratic debate — in characteristically tie-less attire — by getting down to Beyoncé’s “Formation.” A video of the entrepreneur showing off his dance moves while the song played on a TV was shared on his 2020 Instagram account with the caption "Warming up ... " and was posted by others on Twitter.

Who needs to turn tonight’s debate into a bump in the polls?

1028d ago / 11:35 PM UTC

WASHINGTON — All the candidates on tonight's debate stage have already qualified for October's event, which uses the same criteria (130,000 unique donors and four polls of at least 2 percent from different sponsors or different geographic locations for the same pollster).

While it's unclear where the Democratic National Committee will set the threshold for the November debate, a handful of candidates on tonight's stage are in danger of missing the cut if that polling threshold is raised (candidates don't have to disclose their donor information in real time, making handicapping a donor figure difficult).

Looking at the candidates' four best qualifying polls, Julián Castro has the lowest polling average of those on stage Thursday with 2.5 percent (Tom Steyer, who qualified for October's debate but not September's, is at 2.25 percent). After them, Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar are tied at 3 percent, with Cory Booker at 3.25 percent and Beto O'Rourke at 3.5 percent. 

The rest of the field is pushing close to, or into, the double-digits in an average of their top polls. So a lot of the candidates will be looking to shore up their poll numbers over the next few weeks so they don't have to sweat waiting to learn where the next threshold will be. 

Trump says 'it's too bad I'm going to miss' the debate

1028d ago / 11:24 PM UTC

Ahead of the third Democratic debate Thursday night, President Donald Trump said that he'll have to miss watching it and he predicted that one of the three candidates leading in the party's presidential race will ultimately win the party’s nomination next year.

“It’s too bad I’m going to miss it. I’m going to have to somehow have it taped. I didn’t even tell them about that, so maybe it’s not that important, but it is important,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House as he left to speak at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore.

What's at stake at the Democratic presidential debate? Lots of money

1028d ago / 11:14 PM UTC

WASHINGTON — There's a lot at stake for Democrats on tonight's presidential debate stage, including money. A strong performance can help the rich get richer or pull a campaign from the brink of insolvency. 

That's what we saw after the first debate in June, according to campaign finance reports as well as data from ActBlue, the online fundraising tool used by just about all Democratic campaigns. 

The day before Julián Castro's first debate appearance, he raised under $20,000 from itemized donors and ActBlue donations. But the day after a buzzy debate showing that included a tangle with Beto O'Rourke on immigration, Castro raised almost $330,000.

Kamala Harris saw an astronomical bump too — she went from raising $68,000 the day before her debate to raising $574,000 on the day of her debate and $1.8 million the following day, after she locked horns with Joe Biden. 

So as candidates all tussle for a break-out moment, remember that there are some major incentives to be the candidate everyone's talking about when the dust settles. 

Biden campaign calls out Obama critiques in advance

1028d ago / 10:59 PM UTC

In the hours before tonight’s debate, the Biden campaign has been shining a spotlight on one of the storylines from the last one — attacks on President Barack Obama's record.

In a one-minute video, using footage from Biden’s Philadelphia kickoff speech in May, the former vice president calls Obama “an extraordinary man” and praises both his personal integrity and the signature legislative accomplishment of their White House tenure: the Affordable Care Act.

Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz linked to the video on Twitter and called out direct or indirect critiques of Obama.



What is Andrew Yang's 'big' Democratic debate surprise?

1028d ago / 10:53 PM UTC

Andrew Yang is up in the polls and up to ... something.

The businessman and presidential candidate will be doing something "big" and "unprecedented" on debate night Thursday, a senior campaign official told NBC News. The official wouldn't say what.

Yang will be sharing the debate stage with the nine other top-polling Democrats in Houston, including Biden, Sanders, and Warren.

Leading 2020 Democrats set to face off for first time

1028d ago / 10:47 PM UTC

All 10 major Democratic candidates are appearing on stage together for the first time Thursday night in a debate that could shakeup what has been a fairly static presidential primary so far.

The two debates this summer did nothing to dislodge former Vice President Joe Biden from the top of the polls, but the field has begun to winnow and voters are increasingly tuning in, potentially giving challengers an opening in the ABC News-sponsored face off.

For three hours in Houston starting at 8 p.m. ET, Biden will hold center stage surrounded by rivals, whom recent polls show have settled roughly three tiers. Biden's strongest challengers will flank him on stage, but are politically to his left: Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Read our scene-setter for tonight's debate, which will be updated with major moments as the night goes on.

Why the debate nonqualifiers won't quit (yet)


1028d ago / 10:38 PM UTC

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is one of eight candidates in the Democrats’ bloated 2020 presidential field who have been more or less left for dead because they failed to qualify for Thursday’s debate after falling short of the 2 percent polling threshold.

NBC News asked these candidates just what gets them out of bed in the morning, when plenty of Democrats would be happy if they stayed there. Turns out, there are a few simple rules of survival.

Read more here.

Several candidates didn’t make tonight’s debate stage. What are they doing instead?

1028d ago / 10:37 PM UTC

Tom Steyer, Tim Ryan, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Michael Bennet, Marianne Williamson, Tulsi Gabbard and Bill de Blasio didn't make tonight's debate stage. Here’s what most of them are up to.

Biden and Warren had a long history of squabbles before 2020

, and

1028d ago / 10:26 PM UTC

Tonight’s Democratic presidential debate will be the first time when frontrunner Joe Biden will share the same stage with Elizabeth Warren — due to random drawings from the two previous rounds of debates.

But this isn’t the first time they’ve squared off. In fact, their history goes back at least 17 years.

Meanwhile, will this be another Bernie-Elizabeth tag-team effort? Can Kamala bounce back? Can Pete and Beto stand out? Read more about Biden and Warren's history and other storylines to watch tonight.

Democrats prep for debate: Watch the clock, no cursing, who will strike first

1028d ago / 10:11 PM UTC

The top Democratic candidates for president will take the debate stage together on Thursday night, and each member of the diverse field is trying to find a way to stand out of the pack.

Among them, Joe Biden hunkered down for mock debates, Bernie Sanders has no interest in practice sessions and entrepreneur Andrew Yang was planning on trying to stay loose by playing some basketball.

Here's a look at how they and the other seven candidates who will take the stage are preparing for the ABC-sponsored face off in Houston, the third debate among the Democratic hopefuls.

5 things to watch at Thursday's Democratic debate in Houston

1029d ago / 7:41 PM UTC

For the first time, the 2020 Democratic presidential debate field has been culled to the point that all 10 qualifiers can compete on a single stage on the same night here on Thursday.

That means Democratic voters will get a look at the front-runners in the polls — former Biden, Warren and Sanders — in action against one another, and against the tiers of candidates trying to break through before the Iowa caucuses in February.

Biden and his aides have hinted strongly in recent days that he may go after Warren, at least indirectly. But she's succeeded in two previous debates by sticking to her policy agenda, and her rollout of a new Social Security plan on Thursday suggests she doesn't want to spend much time talking about herself or the other candidates. Here are five things to watch.

The September Democratic debate: Everything you need to know

1029d ago / 7:36 PM UTC

Tonight's debate will run for about three hours and air live at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and Univision as well as their streaming platforms. It will feature only the 10 highest-polling candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro.

The candidates will have a little more time to answer questions than in the earlier debates — one minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for rebuttals. While they will make opening statements, there will be no closing remarks, ABC said. Click here for more on what to expect.

Meet the candidates

1029d ago / 7:36 PM UTC

Want to know more about the candidates on stage tonight? Read their brief bios, policy positions and NBC News’ complete coverage of them on our 2020 candidates page.