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Dem Debates Round 1: The Hangover

Four hours of political debates can be grueling. Thankfully, our team has written analysis and commentary on each of the candidates' performances, just for you.

Democratic debate stage on June 27, 2019. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Night One: And We Thought the GOP Debates Were Messy

Elizabeth Warren

Camille: Warren did extraordinarily well opening the debate. She was charismatic and strong from a policy perspective. As a fellow debater, I can appreciate how intensively she was flowing the round.

Trisha: Warren’s ideas managed to dominate the first half of the debate because they established her own philosophies as the main points of contention. Despite not speaking nearly as much as O’Rourke or Booker, she was able to sum up more abstract policy and explain her plans far more deftly. Specifically, her ability to focus on the shift from center to leftist ideology when it came to progressivism allowed her to say “I stand with Bernie” on healthcare, while also maintaining her own presence and personality.

Surya: Understandably, Warren started the debate well with her past debate experience. She continued to stick to her message and beliefs and held an unwavering determination. Although I have multiple, MULTIPLE disagreements with her policies, she presented herself as a force to be reckoned with, and came out on top.

Cory Booker

Camille: Booker was a star in this debate alongside Castro. Not only did he get the highest speaking times, but he was extremely passionate and brought attention to the struggles of minorities. I think he will see a rise in the polls.

Trisha: Booker may have gotten the most words in, but in comparison to Klobuchar, Warren and breakout star Castro, he did not have the depth on unique policy that was expected from him. Given the precedent he set in the past, the actual substance in his policy proposal is disappointing because he seems to have forgotten that the plural of anecdote isn’t facts. However, he does get points for delivery and command of a room but his policy did not match his presence.

Surya: Booker did an outstanding job. Once again, as with Warren, my disagreements with policy were at moments forgotten because of his extremely persuasive speaking. However, he failed to commit to either a message of policy or identity politics, while most other candidates adhered to one or the other. This debate also gave me the idea of a Warren/Booker as a duo...

Julian Castro

Camille: Castro was a star in tonight’s debate. He effectively called out Beto on his immigration stances and pushed for repeals to Section 13.25. As a Latino-American, I believe that Castro will incentivize a lot of Latinx voters to come to the polls if he is able to make it far enough into the race.

Trisha: Until last night Castro was overlooked for candidates with a stronger following but because he stuck to his areas of strength and expertise-most notably immigration-he was able to stand out. It became fairly obvious that he walked in with a plan to make himself a household name and when he left it appeared he was successful. Hopefully he can capitalize on this momentum and push his unique policy incentives with more effectiveness.

Surya: I was not fooled by Castro’ energy. If anyone really looked closer at what he was doing, he was simply building upon other peoples’ arguments and rewording. I understand why he would stand out to most voters, but at the end of the day, his vagueness on policy can’t rival the conciseness of a Booker or Warren.

Amy Klobuchar

Camille: “All foam, no beer.” Klobuchar did a good job of sounding folksy and using phrases that were memorable. She had a great clapback to Inslee when they were talking about reproductive rights. I don’t think she stood out but she did well enough.

Trisha: Surprisingly, Klobuchar was able to establish herself in an arena that would have been competitive for anyone, especially a smaller candidate because she was able to think on her feet quick enough to effectively retort. Had it not been for Inslee’s comments on reproductive rights, Klobuchar’s night would have been far less productive.

Surya: I felt like Klobuchar did a much better job than I expected. Her one-liners actually stood out, and her takedown of Inslee was well-timed. Although Klobuchar is mostly centrist, she did a very good job at appealing to the progressive vote as well. I didn’t expect much since she’s a lower-polling candidate, but she had good rebuttal, which is always key.

Beto O’Rourke

Camille: Beto did not particularly stand out to me, and the three main things I remember him for are 1) awkwardly inserting his Spanish skills in the middle of a response, 2) being schooled by Castro, 3) speaking in a raspy Sk8er Boi voice. I didn’t see any huge flops, but he likely won’t see a rise in the polls because there are other young male candidates who have similar appeal but are more quick-witted and popular (ex. Buttigieg).

Trisha: While I was hoping Beto would remain as charismatic and organized as he was during his run for senate, he appeared unprepared and seemed to be relying on his progressive policy to stand out. However, on a stage where Warren, Yang and even Castro managed to put forth more tangible policy and remain far more progressive when it comes to healthcare and public option he was left behind. If anything, his most memorable moment was his spanish which proved a detriment not a benefit.

Surya: Beto quickly embarrassed himself. When asked a question about prgressive tax rates, he just started speaking Spanish and didn’t even answer the question. His inspecificity throughout the debate failed to score him points with voters who want real policies. Beto always attempts to hit at ethos, but it failed him in this debate.

Bill de Blasio

Camille: Even though he had one of the lowest speaking times, I believe that De Blasio made an impact because he had a lot of charisma. He has “Trump energy” with the way that he talks, and I think that this will appeal to voters who liked Trump because of his “no-nonsense” attitude.

Trisha: De Blasio came off sounding less eloquent than other more “polished” candidates, but his appeal comes from being different than Booker’s more faith-based personality and O’Rourke’s “approachable” one. He might have some hope among the non-Trump Republicans who are hoping to find a moderate Democrat, but for progressives he’s been counted out.

Surya: I agree with most that de Blasio has wild charisma and a “Trump-like” energy, however I found him to be spewing the same progressive ideologies that democrats like to hear over and over again. I admired his passion, but it may have gotten in the way of his message.

John Delaney

Camille: Delaney flopped in this debate because he barely spoke and he did not have any clear breakout moments. I also think he was becoming too repetitive when he kept saying “real solutions, not empty promises.” Sort of cliche.

Trisha: Delaney was all but forgotten when he walked in and the sentiment was exactly the same when he left. Of all the candidates he has been in the race the longest, and it definitely showed because he did not have any one line or policy that made him different from anyone else on that stage. His rebuttal for Medicare-for-all at best served to counteract the face value of Warren’s argument but overlooked any actual depth or complexity.

Surya: As a centrist, I tend to align more with Delaney. However, the lack of speaking time he was given was simply not enough. I would have wanted to hear him speak, but MSNBC didn’t treat him like a real candidate. I’d say the failure is on the network’s part, considering their bias is moving ever-farther left, and it seems they’ve decided to leave behind moderates/centrists.

Tulsi Gabbard

Camille: Gabbard was well-spoken and emphasized her experience as a veteran, but didn’t add much else to it. I felt like I was waiting for the “so what”. Unlike Booker, who was able to tie his personal experiences to policy initiatives, Gabbard seemed like she was pandering to veteran voters. She also appeared too robotic and rehearsed, and I don’t think she will garner a significant amount of support for the next debates.

Trisha: Gabbard seemed to be ready for every question that could have been predicted, especially when it came to the deployment of troops and while her personal time in the army makes her hard to argue with when it comes to the military, the scope of her experiences remains too limited for her to use anecdotal evidence as her primary backing. She has received an upswing of support following demonstration of knowledge surrounding key policy areas, but not enough to rival other similar candidates like Klobuchar.

Surya: Gabbard was perhaps the MOST vague on all policy. Her shining moment really was correcting Tim Ryan on military policy. Otherwise, I don’t have much to say about her because she didn’t inform us enough on how she’ll solve problems.

Jay Inslee

Camille: Yikes! When he said that the biggest threat to the security of the U.S. was Donald Trump, I think he got some cringes from anybody with common sense. There are bigger fish to fry. Most notably, he had the lowest speaking time, and is the most likely to not make it to the next debates.

Trisha: Much like the audience, he seemed fairly surprised he was on the stage at all and his lack of coordinated structure in policy and rebuttal displayed it. Considering his defining moment was mansplaining womens’ rights with three women on the same stage, I won’t be surprised if his poll numbers are lower than his speaking time.

Surya: Inslee had me deterred from the start. However, he managed to pull himself together a bit at the end. He had a major downfall when Klobuchar corrected him on who’s really fought for the right to an abortion, hurting his potential with female liberal voters.

Tim Ryan

Camille: Ryan seemed timid and quiet the entire time and did not make an effort to get more speaking time even though he was clearly falling behind. I predict that he will not make it to the next round of debates.

Trisha: Honestly, it could have been worse but considering Ryan barely spoke it will be extremely surprising if he makes it into the next round. His inability to speak about anything of substance came back to hurt him when every other candidate was fighting for speaking time (i.e. De Blasio interrupting) and he was not even using the allocated amount.

Surya: Where to begin? The poor guy seemed like he was about to break down at every question. He also doesn’t seem educated enough on issues that democrats care about. Also, Gabbard absolutely destroyed him on Middle Eastern policy. I only see Ryan’s poll numbers going down the drain after this debate.

Tim Ryan during the 6/26 Dem Debates. Artist: Camille Luong.

Night Two: Expectations Were Not Met

Bernie Sanders

Camille: Bernie did not have any major slip-ups that I recall, and performed well. Like Warren, he did not have any breakout moments but will remain at the top of the polls due to his popularity.

Surya: Bernie just kind of seemed… there. I feel that although he stuck to his message and didn’t slip up, he didn’t match Kamala’s energy or that of Warren’s/Booker’s the night before. He did, however, fail to win on the single-payer debate against those supporting a public option. He simply let Kamala do that work, and frankly, it simply left him in the dust.

Abigail: I expected more from Sanders. He isn’t showing the traditional energy that his supporters have seen throughout the campaign, and he’s relying on a lot of rhetoric but not a lot of actual substance.

Nikhil: Bernie didn’t do anything special, but at the same time, he didn’t mess up enough to make him fall in the polls. All in all, Bernie more or less cemented his spot as a frontrunner with this debate.

Joe Biden

Camille: OOF! Biden was a dead man after Harris came for him on the segregation issue. He should have either defended that busing is a bad idea (ex: it is an inconvenience for families who have to bus their children) OR admitted that he was wrong. Biden had everyone attacking him and he failed to say the right things.

Surya: I disagree with other members of AYCE as to just how badly Joe was hurt in this debate. I thought he recovered well from the busing debate. He made clear of his support on the states’ initiative there, and also cited his track record of fighting for civil rights and working with Obama to make progress. His defense of voting for the Iraq war also strong, stating he wouldn’t have voted for it if the AUMF were in place at the time. It could have been worse if perhaps someone pointed out his support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Joe is really trying hard to appeal to the Left. His traditional centrism is really being lost, and that may not work out well. Progressives most likely will be skeptical, and his centrist base may not be too enthusiastic of this shift.

Abigail: Joe is done. Kamala literally dragged his reputation across the stage and chugged it out the window.

Nikhi: RIP. Biden got completely attacked by Harris, and she brought up enough skeletons from Biden’s past that his position leading the polls may be vulnerable as of now. The next few weeks will show us whether or not Biden is actually strong enough to withstand these attacks and win the nomination.

Kamala Harris

Camille: Harris was the clear winner by the end of the night. She took down Biden with the segregation question. She got attention and dominance when she needed to. I see her as a strong contender for the democratic nomination if she keeps up her energy during the debates.

Surya: Harris is known for her energy in the Senate, and she did not fail to deliver at this debate. Her attacks on Biden really stood out, but more importantly, her use of identity politics and comprehensive approaches to solving the main issues Americans care about blended better than any other candidate. I could see her overtaking Bernie in the polls.

Abigail: Kamala really surprised me in today’s debate because she usually has a much more “you did not just say that” attitude during her hearings. She definitely brought out the inner passion tonight when pressing Biden on the issue of segregation. Although Kamala didn’t specifically talk about the issues she plans to deal with if she’s president, her energy will get her far in the debates.

Nikhil: Harris, with her attacks on Biden and energetic attitude, completely won this debate. She was able to successfully make the frontrunner (Biden) seem vulnerable, held her ground, and her dominance definitely caught the eyes of thousands of voters.

Pete Buttigieg

Camille: Buttigieg had charisma and passion. He answered the questions in a thoughtful way without seeming rehearsed. He showed humility by admitting to fault in the police question. I predict he will gain a lot of the moderate vote because of how he approached medicare (some private healthcare) and free college (only for low and middle income students). He’ll also steal Biden’s moderate votes because of how much Biden slipped up.

Surya: I honestly started to dislike Buttigieg more during this debate. He never specifically addressed anything and doubt he would be able to stand up to Trump directly. He also failed to handle the questions of the criminal investigation going on in South Bend right now. Buttigieg gained a lot of support for being the “nobody” candidate, and “underdog”, but his lack of big government experience really let him down this debate. He was by far the vaguest candidate this debate.

Abigail: Despite being one of the youngest candidates to run, Buttigeig showed more maturity than the other contestants combined. He is very direct when answering questions but didn’t fail to stand out in terms of both policy and passion. Young people see him as a “breath of fresh air” and it showed on the stage tonight. Buttigeig will go far if he continues to display his humble, honest character effectively.

Nikhil: After Kamala Harris, Buttigieg may have been the biggest winner of the debate. He spoke with passion and energy but most important, authenticity. What really made Buttigieg stand out was the genuine humility and authenticity when he spoke, making him appear to offer a new perspective than many of the other candidates. Moreover, Buttigieg’s answer regarding Medicare will give him a moderate appeal, and if he continues this strategy, it seems likely that Buttigieg will go far.

Andrew Yang

Camille: I expected Yang to stand out because of his unique ideas on UBI and automation. However, Yang disappointed me because he stood back and followed the rules, adhering to the stereotype of Asians being submissive. Perhaps in part, MSNBC was at fault for his low speaking times. Two questions and a mic failure are suspicious. If it is true that his mic was turned off for the majority of the debate, I still think he should have waved his hands or tapped on the candidate next to him or done SOMETHING to raise awareness about his muted mic. This would have been extremely bad for MSNBC and exposed them of their bias. But he didn’t do that, and we have yet to hear from him on the full story. Although he will make it to the next debates because of his high donor numbers, this debate did nothing to boost him. Hopefully he changes his strategy in the fall.

Surya: Apparently, Yang had a mic failure during the debate, and that hurt his ability to chime in on issues. I was quite disappointed in MSNBC for only asking him two questions. He had the least speaking time, but he’s polling higher than candidates like Gillibrand, Swalwell, Hickenlooper, etc. who got more speaking time than him. I think the American people would have wanted to hear more about his unique policies like UBI, a VAT, and pushing for Human Capitalism. Yang is a unique rising force in the Democratic Party with the most detailed policy; however, that was not put on display this debate.

Abigail: Yang is used to civil conversations where he’s given time to explain his policies, but the debates are quick and fast-paced. While he does have thorough, sensible plans, he lacks the charisma and “politician patriotism” that other candidates come through with. Yes, it is true that MSNBC did not give him as much time, and he also had a mic failure, but I still feel as if he were missing the energy needed to introduce UBI and the Value-Added Tax to American voters, and there were definitely moments he could have spoke up.

Nikhil: Yang walked into these debates with some of the most interesting policies, for example, his policies regarding his Freedom Dividend and his ideas over the role of automation in America’s economy. However, Yang’s lack of speaking time and overall passive attitude when it came to discussing thrust him to the back of these debates. In the future, Yang will need to adopt more a politician’s attitude and speak up.

Marianne Williamson

Camille: Williamson is crazy, but was entertaining to watch. I don’t know how she thinks she is going to win by saying we should be focused on slogans instead of policies. She was really out there when she said that “chemical policies” were creating chronic illnesses and when she said that she would call the President of New Zealand and make America great for children again…

Surya: I had heard of Williamson from before, but didn’t expect her to make it to the stage. I doubt she’ll gain any real traction from this debate, (humorously) considering her main concern was “New Zealand’s children.” She does deserve credit for caring about the spirit of the American people, which received much applause.

Abigail: Where did this woman come from? I don’t know how she qualified for today’s debates but Williamson was definitely not taken seriously by everyone on that set tonight. Her only redeemable quality is her unique voice, but when you’re running for president people need real policies.

Nikhil: Williamson was interesting and entertaining to say the least; however, in what she made up for with her unique voice, she was lacking in substance and policy. Williamson’s voice might keep her relevant for a little after the debates, but if she is looking for any legitimate change, she is going to need to develop an actual platform and realistic policies.

Eric Swalwell

Camille: It was funny when he referenced Joe Biden because it emphasized the age difference, but the message seemed to be “We agree on the same ideas but I’m younger” and that was it. Swalwell is not the youngest candidate on the stage (Buttigieg is a year younger than him) and does not have the same likability that Buttigieg does, and will likely not make it to the next debates. Additionally, I thought his “pass the torch” rhetoric was slightly repetitive.

Surya: Swalwell just seemed to be repeating the same old progressive rhetoric over and over again, trying to gain millennial appeal. However, I found his attitude very off-putting and his policy to be far too vague. His determination is of good intention, but I doubt Democrats will see him as the man to unite the country.

Abigail: I think Swalwell did a decent job in creating a narrative by sticking to his gun control policy, but he doesn’t do as well actually explaining how he will implement gun laws. Overall, for the short amount of speaking time he got, Swalwell definitely left an imprint in viewers’ minds because of his dominant attitude despite not having a strong base to support his claims.

Nikhil: Swalwell, as one of the lesser known candidates, was also falling behind in speaking. However, unlike many of his peers, Swalwell capitalized on the time he had and stuck to his gun control policies. He did enough for people to remember him.

John Hickenlooper

Camille: Hickenlooper is similar to Bennet in that he has energy and ideas, but they’re not unique or interesting enough to beat out people like Harris or Bernie.

Surya:Hickenlooper had an extremely unique message: “We can solve America’s ills without socialism and big government.” I’m sorry John, but you should then go to the Republican National Convention. Democrats won’t be looking for a small-government candidate at this time, and I doubt we’ll be seeing Hickenlooper again.

Abigail: I’m going to be completely honest, I do not remember a single word Hickenlooper said tonight. He is a very mediocre candidate and his ideas are bland as well. He’s going to need a more strategic tactic to really be seen in later debates (if he qualifies, that is).

Nikhil: After weeks of fighting with Sanders, Hickenlooper was very forgettable. Hickenlooper did not have any ideas or a new sense of energy that made him stand out from the crowd.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Camille: Gillibrand did a good job of being assertive and inserting herself into the debate when nobody asked her to. However, she did not capitalize on her speaking opportunities because her ideas were not spectacular or unique. Last night, Castro interrupted many times with more interesting content.

Surya:Gillibrand stuck to her main issues of women’s rights and childcare, which definitely pleased her base. However, although she got more speaking time by being assertive and interrupting, what she had to say wasn’t extremely revolutionary and was a bit of a letdown. I think she’ll probably stay relatively strong, but will be early to wear out in this campaign.

Abigail: Gillibrand definitely got more time for herself than given and I think that’s a good strategy during these debates. However, although she climbed higher on speaking times, she failed to stand out in terms of policy. If she keeps interrupting with no substance viewers are going to get annoyed.

Nikhil: Gillibrand may not have been asked as many questions as some of the other candidates, but she was impressive in asserting her view and sneaking her way into the discussion. However, even though Gillibrand’s energy and attitude were impressive, her vague policies were not.

Michael Bennet

Camille: Although Bennet received a reasonable amount of speaking time, I don’t think that he stood out or had any unique ideas/moments. He’s better as a senator than a president.

Surya: I’ve seen Bennet’s passionate Senate speeches before, but he didn’t really give way to his emotions this debate, which may have hurt more than it helped. For those who know Bennet from the past, he has a good record of defeating Republicans in debates, but this seemed to be more of a weakening to his campaign. I ultimately thought he could have done more.

Abigail: Bennet was TOTALLY trying to pan to Bernie’s supporters in this debate. He kept on using the phrases “I agree with Bernie” to catch attention from the audience. However, like Hickenlooper, his energy lacks passion, and he comes off as any ordinary candidate.

Nikhil: I thought Bennet did a fantastic job coming out on top over his former boss, Hickenlooper. Bennet may not have had any stand out policies, but the personal approach he took when discussing immigration really stuck.


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