It was Elizabeth Warren’s night.
We could have seen that much coming — polls from before the debate showed that a plurality of voters expected Warren to have the best performance on Tuesday night — but the way in which she commanded the stage, both on purpose and by the attacks others levied against her, showed just how much this Democratic primary has evolved since September.
Here are five key takeaways from this month’s Democratic debate:
1) Elizabeth Warren is the Front Runner:
She may not be leading in the polls — despite the occasional poll showing her ahead of Joe Biden, she is still statistically trailing him — but Tuesday’s debate showed that she is indeed the front runner, whether the numbers support it or not.
From the moment the debate started, Warren was the subject of upward swipes, not Biden, as it has been in all previous debates. She commanded the conversation and, more often than not, in the first hour, all questions lead back to her. Her speaking time by the first commercial break was 10:23 — almost five minutes more than Bernie Sanders, who was second on that front.
Despite the attacks on Warren, she handled it well and consistently got her point across. She had a good night, and the fact that she was treated like the front runner now makes her that.
2) The New York Times Knows how to Run a Debate:
This debate, contrary to previous debates, was co-hosted by The New York Times. And while that may have not been the reason for the well-managed and effective debate format, it certainly was the best debate so far.
Sure, there were 12 candidates on the stage — probably more than double what we needed — but somehow, it all worked out. On each subject, the moderators gave essentially the same question to each candidate, which brought out the differences — however subtle — between them.
My one complaint is the lack of emphasis on climate. Aside from the occasional mention, climate went untouched, which is unforgivable.
3) Cory Booker is the Peacemaker:
In response to almost every question, Cory Booker responded with a unifying answer. He somehow managed to disregard the differences that candidates were just slobbering over seconds ago through a united vendetta against Donald Trump, and it seemed right on brand with his career happy-warrior persona.
There was some speculation by The New York Times live analysis that Booker, muddled in the polls at around two percent, was vying for vice president — an idea that might have some merit.
Another candidate that stood out: Tom Steyer. Despite some pretty large personal reservations heading into the debate, I was pleasantly surprised how Steyer held his own, and his answer to one question on growing wage inequality was especially powerful (until you remember he’s worth $1.6 billion).
4) Tulsi Gabbard is Unafraid to Burn all of her Bridges:
The congresswoman called out The New York Times and CNN right to their face, and was the candidate that stood the most in contrast to every other person on that stage.
Her exchange with Pete Buttigieg may have been the highlight of the night. Both veterans, the two debated how the United States should handle its “forever wars,” especially within the context of the Trump-ordered Syria withdrawal. It got pretty tense at points. If you have a few minutes, watch this interaction — it’s worth it.
Because of that exchange and other moments, Buttigieg stood out. He defended his not-progressive-progressive platform well, and operated smoothly. He seemed to recapture some of the spark that drove the early days of his campaign.
5) This is the Death Knell of Many Candidates:
It seemed like the debate — despite the efficient format — was more volatile than previous meetings. This debate, for many candidates, is a death knell. It’s their final chance to make their plea to voters before digging in or dropping out.
We saw that much in the tussle between Gabbard and Buttigieg, and one exchange between Kamala Harris and Warren. Candidates were more vicious than normal, and this will be our final team seeing some of them onstage.
Unlike previous debates, this debate will not so much shake up the race as perpetuate the momentum of the primary. Warren will not lose momentum, but continue to gain; for the foreseeable future, this will remain a two-horse race.
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