Breaking News Emails
Voters who were hoping for close combat weren't disappointed by Wednesday night's 10-way Democratic presidential debate. There was a lot of it, and it was fierce.
With Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado moderate, guarding his flank, former Vice President Joe Biden battled with just about everyone else on the stage — even as a handful of side scraps broke out around him — as he tried to cement his front-runner status in advance of a long break before the next debate in September.
Here, in no particular order, is a look at which candidates made moves to help their own cause, which of them slipped and which faded into the background.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.: Still looking for his first truly big moment of the campaign, Booker may have found it in a debate performance that featured him articulating his values, throwing rhetorical punches at Biden and President Donald Trump, and absorbing a few shots from the former VP — all with an even keel, a quick wit and a sunny demeanor.
Former Vice President Joe Biden: He came under attack more than any other candidate and handled himself much better than he did when Sen. Kamala Harris stunned him in the debate in Miami last month. While Biden's performance was uneven — he wasn't as good at defending his record as he was at picking apart those of others — he came out of the gate by tearing into Harris and her health care plan effectively enough to reassure his supporters.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.: Harris had a rough outing. She was a target for everyone from Biden to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and found herself struggling to defend her record as a prosecutor in California and clearly distinguish her health care plan from the Medicare for All proposal she has abandoned. In the midst of all the rhetorical warfare, she managed only a handful of middling zingers.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.: Facing the very real possibility that she won't meet the donor and polling thresholds to make the stage for the next debate, Gillibrand took a previously telegraphed shot at Biden — and missed. She accused him of not believing women should work outside the home, which he easily turned back by talking about his decades of work on public policy issues involving equality for women in the workplace.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii: Gabbard drew attention by going after Harris' work as a prosecutor, including cracking down on marijuana, not more firmly opposing the death penalty and supporting a cash bail system. She also accused President Donald Trump of "supporting al Qaeda" — a comment that debate moderators and candidates chose not to follow up on. She did well enough to become the top-searched candidate on Google during the debate.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.: If you think climate change is more important than all the other issues combined, you probably liked hearing from Inslee. As he has on the campaign trail, in television appearances and in the first debate, he focused his message on what he described as a burning-house matter that can't wait. But he was largely a non-factor on other matters.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.: Bennet teamed up with Biden to tie Harris to progressives' Medicare for All plan at the start of the debate, disappeared at times and then re-emerged briefly in the middle of the debate to bail Biden out of discussions about desegregation and mass incarceration in the past. Bennet said segregation is worse now and that the problem of mass incarceration could be solved by better education. “Let's fix our school system,” he said to applause.
Andrew Yang: The entrepreneur who has surprised by polling ahead of some federal officeholders faded into the background for the most part. His closing statement, about his outsider status, was his highlight. "We're up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show," he said. "It's one reason why we elected a reality TV star as our president. We need to be laser-focused on solving the real challenges of today."
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro: After gaining a bit of fame for knocking down Beto O'Rourke in his first debate outing, Castro went hunting for bigger prey Wednesday night. He went after Biden on immigration. “What we need is politicians who actually have some guts on this issue,” Castro said. Biden snapped back that he had "guts enough" to say Castro's plan to decriminalize illegal border crossing "doesn't make sense."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio: Before he'd been asked a single question, Gotham's mayor singled out Biden and Harris in his opening statement, setting the stage for a night of swings and misses.