And then there were seven…
The sixth Democratic debate in Los Angeles on Thursday night featured seven candidates just 24 hours after the impeachment of President Donald Trump. While impeachment was the first question of the debate but it was the only reference to it all evening…unless you were reading Trump’s Twitter feed during the debate.
The first hour of the three-hour event featured each candidate making their best case without going after one another.
The second hour was filled with fireworks between Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- two of the four top tier candidates -- that will be discussed for days to come. Warren got the better of the exchange and Buttigieg wound up hurting himself.
The third and final hour settled into a mix of hour one and two without the pyrotechnics of Warren and Buttigieg but it still brought plenty of information
While the debates haven’t changed the race to date, fewer candidates on the stage enabled voters to hear more from each candidate and learned more about them as a result.
In Buttigieg voters saw someone who overplayed his hand rebutting Warren and with too much anger.
The debate Thursday night may not change the Democratic top tier…Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg (though Buttigieg may face fallout from this one) but it still gave voters a lot of information about them to consider. Here are the night’s winners and losers.
BIG WINNER – Joe Biden
The former vice president had his best debate to date and delivered his best answers to a number of questions throughout it from the economy to the ability to work with Republicans if elected even though they have attacked him and his son.
He is the insurance policy for Democrats against Trump and they are sticking with him unless/until another candidate emerges that they believe can beat Trump. That’s the reason he leads the polls. In past debates, Biden hasn’t performed well but he has still maintained his lead.
On Thursday night Biden made sure he didn’t give anyone a reason to cash in that policy for someone else. In fact, he gave plenty of comfort to voters who want to stick with him. He went into the debate as the front runner and he ended the debate as the front runner.
WINNER – Elizabeth Warren
After two lackluster debates and a tough month in the polls, Warren came roaring back on Thursday night.
She started by delivering her economic message and then plainly stated that people who doubt her tax plan are “just wrong.” Warren also faced lots of questions about her plans from the debate panel and she stuck to her plans and message in response. And then she stood her ground with Pete Buttigieg.
Warren’s exchange with Buttigieg about fundraising changed the debate, launching a heated exchange between them and resulted in a good night for Warren and a very bad night for Buttigieg.
It revealed something about both of them to voters that will help Warren and hurt Buttigieg. In Warren, they saw conviction and persistence. In Buttigieg voters saw someone who overplayed his hand rebutting Warren and with too much anger.
WINNER – Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar delivered another solid performance with her signature lines, sharp points, and humor on Thursday night that will help her with some voters.
She also put Buttigieg in his place about his ability to win races after his attack on Warren and cheeky remark about the fact his experience didn’t come from a “committee room in Washington.” While Klobuchar has been making slow, steady point by point progress in the polls but with just 45 days to go until the Iowa Caucuses it’s not enough to get her in the top tier. But, she was a substantial presence in the debate on Thursday night.
BIGGEST LOSER - Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg, after a hot fall vaulting him back to the top tier of candidates, saw things get decidedly cool in December for him. His debate performance on Thursday night will likely make it worse.
Buttigieg had a very bad night that will raise questions with voters about his ability to perform on the big stage of presidential politics.
His attack on Warren about fundraising went too far and was far too angry -- and most Democrats will see it that way too.
Claiming Warren’s fundraising policy of grassroots donors and no closed fundraisers with millionaires and billionaires was a “purity” test and then justified his high donor closed-door fundraising events as necessary to beat Trump will hurt him.
So, too, will his approach in making these claims against his opponents that isn’t likely to wear well with voters, either.
Buttigieg’s tough night was compounded by his less than convincing ability to discuss policy. More often than not it sounds like he is grabbing bits and pieces of other candidates’ proposals with a single different element to strike a contrast with them and voters. Make no mistake about it, Thursday night was a bad night for Mayor Pete that won’t soon be forgotten
LOSER – Tom Steyer
Speaking of billionaires, Steyer has bought his way onto the debate stage largely through millions of dollars in TV advertisements. His performance at this debate was little more than an extension of his TV ads.
Many of Steyer’s lines on Thursday night were cribbed from his TV ads and he is simply not comfortable in debates and unable to perform in them. Steyer will continue purchasing ads and likely making the threshold to participate in upcoming debates but it will do little to advance his candidacy -- that was clear on Thursday night.
The lack of diversity on the debate stage in Los Angeles on Thursday night is a loss for Democrats. The party is fueled by women and voters of color and there are still too few of them represented in the race and debates.
Andrew Yang was the only candidate of color on the stage while Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar were the only women.
The fact that New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who didn’t make the debate stage, ran one ad during the event, underscored this glaring omission.