Democratic Debates Push Forward, Showing New Sides of Presidential Contenders

Peyton Upchurch
Staff Writer

PC: Flickr

Compared to meetings earlier in the summer, viewers noticed stark differences in the Sept. 12 Democratic debate. The structure saw an abrupt shift from previous election cycles and with good reason: the downfalls of the Trump administration that Democratic presidential candidates are trying so desperately to draw attention to have reached what NPR referred to as a “critical juncture.” In some ways, American people seem to be viewing these liberal candidates in search of a fix to the current presidency. 

Ten remaining candidates took the stage on Sept. 12 in a debate resembling earlier game show-like rounds and, once again, they reiterated their positions on an array of issues. After prior summer debate rounds, however, the debate came as a more energizing look at candidate’s views on polarizing policies and seemingly left an impression on viewers in a new way. 

Although there were still a large number of people on the stage, they were the candidates that Americans have followed the closest, and there was no anticipation of even more candidates battling the following night as they had in the July debate.

Viewers noted the shift in candidates’ time usage from attempting to cram in commentary to more fully developed answers to questions. Many also recognized the pressing inquiries and follow-up questions of the four ABC moderators who maintained smoother transitions than the ones seen in previous meetings. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren were among the presidential hopefuls that received the most airtime, which gave viewers the chance to see the highest-polling candidates face off on key issues. Sen. Warren, who was given 17 minutes of speaking time, was praised by Democratic consumers for her passionate responses to a range of issues. 

Despite the attachment of many Democrats to Biden for his purported ability to take on Trump, Biden received half-hearted commentary following the debate; it appeared that many agreed he was simply “okay.” Other candidates, however, appeared much less forgiving. Julian Castro’s supposed reference to Biden’s age came shortly after a comment that viewers recalled as Biden contradicting himself. 

When Biden responded with denial, Castro fired back: “Are you forgetting already what you said just 2 minutes ago?” The comment seemed aimed at Biden’s age and past memory lapses, and rendered both applause and groaning from audience members. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders rehashed a compelling argument for the “Medicare for All” program, which was a large part of his platform when he began the race against Hillary Clinton five years ago. Medicare for All focuses a great deal on older people, so it is not surprising that it has the support of some older candidates, including Sanders. At age 78, Sanders has not been impacted by the age-based commentary in the same way that Biden has. Many attribute this to his notoriously passionate statements and consistent involvement. 

Aside from the three frontrunners, Sen. Cory Booker, former congressman Beto O’Rourke, Indiana mayor Pete Buttegieg, and Sen. Kamala Harris each captured their own moments of fame. 

Sen. Booker of New Jersey elicited several good laughs from the audience and commanded attention during his remarks on the nation’s gun violence epidemic, as well as issues affecting his fellow black Americans. While Booker’s campaign remains positive, the candidate is not polling particularly well among prospective Democratic voters and his fundraising is falling behind the frontrunning candidates. 

Texan congressman Beto O’Rourke quickly went viral for his forward statements regarding the gun violence epidemic and his buyback plan for military-style firearms. 

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” O’Rourke told the audience, referring to the type of weaponry used in recent mass shootings. While he received praise from many viewers, his view on buybacks has not been popular with every Democratic member of the House and Senate.  

Mayor Pete Buttegieg, although he received little airtime, used each chance he got to make fine-tuned and seemingly well-thought out commentary on a variety of issues. The 37-year-old from South Bend, Indiana closed the debate with a remark on how happy he was to have been able to come out as gay and marry his husband. 

Sen. Kamala Harris succeeded in returning the conversation to Donald Trump but received little airtime. She attempted a joke-like remark about Biden’s ties to the Obama-administration but it didn’t have nearly the same impact as her sharp commentary in the June debate round regarding Biden’s anti-integration policy support in the 1970s.

Not one candidate on the stage drew attention to the worry over recession that polling has shown to be a major concern for Americans. This would have been an important debate topic, because recessions have been the root cause of nearly every incumbent presidency loss, indicating that fear of recession could matter far more than the Democratic party’s presidential nominee when it comes to taking on Trump. 

Although it will take far more than a strong candidate to defeat the incumbent, the Sept. 12 debate was widely regarded by viewers as a step in the right direction when it comes to constructing a nominee and platform fit to beat the current administration. 



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