The first Democratic presidential debate is in the books, and 10 of the 20 candidates who qualified for the proceedings have had their say – in one-minute chunks. Now that we’ve had a chance to see what at least some of this massive presidential field has been able to do on the same stage and under the spotlight, here are a few takeaways.
Ten is a crowd
As expected, having 10 contenders on the stage at the same time made for a bit of an awkward debate. Candidates disappeared for long stretches – including Warren, who missed out on the entirety of the immigration topic. When they did have their chance to speak, many seemed practically out of breath as they tried to cram as many words into their answers as possible.
Tim Ryan and Tulsi Gabbard, who have to contend with low name recognition, received few opportunities to make their pitch. Poor John Delaney seemed to constantly try to get a word in edgewise, only to be batted down by more forceful speakers, like De Blasio, or the moderators themselves.
If the format is problematic, it’s the hand the candidates have been dealt – tomorrow and again next month in Detroit. At some point the field will winnow down and the debates will get more personal. Until then, however, those on the stage will have to do the best they can with fleeting chances they’re given.
There may have been one clear winner of tonight’s debate, and that was a man who wasn’t on the stage – Joe Biden. Despite his position as the front-runner in the race so far, none of the 10 candidates present on Wednesday night did so much as mention the former vice-president directly or by implication. They seemed content to talk about their own policies or take swipes at those within immediate earshot.
The only concern Biden may have is that Klobuchar made her own case for practical moderation – the same political ground the vice-president has staked out. But she has much more work to do to convince Biden’s voters to switch to her.
Biden’s luck may run out tomorrow, of course, when he has to contend with Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris – all of whom are high enough in the polls to believe that a Biden stumble could put them at or near the top.
At least for one night, however, the front-runner didn’t have to worry about dodging rhetorical bullets because none were fired.