Here is a breakdown of each candidate from last night’s Democrat debate ranked, in my opinion, from worst to first:
Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand, Senator from New York, came across as rude all night, constantly interrupting others. In a 10-person debate, the objective isn’t actually to debate, but rather to get across the main points of your campaign in a positive manner to a large audience. If this was my first impression of Gillibrand, as it was for many a Democrat who doesn’t live in New York or an early primary state, I would be very turned off from her as a candidate.
Eric Swalwell: Similarly to Gillibrand, Swalwell (Congressman from California), was very combative. He seemed to single out Joe Biden, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing if he was a contender (Kamala Harris took her shots, too, but it looked much better). But he’s not. He’s a young Congressman from the 11th wealthiest district in this country, and he’s polling around 1%. He didn’t make friends last night (which he might want to do, since he’s just playing for a cabinet position at this point), and I doubt he won many voters, either.
Bernie Sanders: Sanders, Senator from Vermont, appeared incredibly weak last night. When everyone else is promising the same free stuff as him, his flaws as a candidate are exposed. Bernie has some of the same generational problems as Joe Biden, and those got brought up last night. His progressive base has seen strong debate performances from Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard the last two days, and it’s possible some of those supporters move over to the younger women of color.
Andrew Yang: When I interviewed Andrew Yang, businessman, back in November of last year, I thought he was incredibly intelligent and his proposals were very thought-out. That did not come across at all last night. Yang was not assertive, and so he got few chances as it was, and when he did get his chances, he seemed timid and nervous. That’s understandable for someone coming from outside politics, but it reflects very poorly on him. Like the rest of the low-polling candidates on the stage, this was his first impression on many voters, and it was entirely forgettable. If Yang gets another chance at a debate, he has to improve on this performance.
Joe Biden: Biden, former Democrat Vice President, withstood attacks from nearly every candidate on stage. He was the furthest right of anyone out there, and he’s the front-runner, so everyone knew this was coming, but it’s still a tall task to take the blows and come out smelling like roses. Biden wasn’t perfect, but he was gaffe-free, he counter-punched a little (the line to Kamala Harris on civil rights and not being a prosecutor comes to mind), and he toed the line on issues without upsetting the progressives too much, I think. Still, he spent most of the night on the defensive, and if the rest of the debates go this poorly for him, his support will erode.
Marrianne Williamson: Williamson, an author, was the outsider Yang wanted to be. She had some very good lines, she had all the fire of an outsider activist, she hit the important progressive talking points, and I’m sure she impressed plenty of new voters. That said, her performance faded as the night went on, and she did have a slight gaffe.
John Hickenlooper/Michael Bennett: The two Colorado moderates, Hickenlooper the former governor and Bennett the senator, gave similar performances. They were boring moderates who didn’t impress much but didn’t misstep, either. This is what Biden wanted to do, and maybe it’s what he would have done had there not been a target on his back. If and when Biden cracks, centrists have two other candidates they could move to. Both would be very capable candidates against Donald Trump, because neither are so far left as to alienate suburban voters who are wary of him. Both could also serve as good vice presidential candidates for a progressive presidential candidate, and that may be all they are running for.
Pete Buttigeig: Pete Buttigeig, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, looked like the perfect Democrat candidate. He was quick, smart, took a tough question in stride, and did it all coming across very charismatically. He subtly reminded the viewers of his experiences in the Midwest (where Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio won Donald Trump the 2016 election), in the military (which balances his left-leaning policies), and in the executive role (an experience he shares only with Biden and Hickenlooper from that stage). He took shots at Republicans, not Democrats, which is good for his political future, and for this race considering how early on it is. Buttigeig still has a great shot at the presidential nomination (we’re still a long way out; Trump hadn’t even announced by this time in 2015), but I think he has a better shot at a vice presidential nomination due to his age and demographic appeal.
Kamala Harris: Harris, the Senator from California, commanded both Democrat and general audience attention last night. She made her views known on just about every issue. She did a fantastic job at staying on topic. She was very well prepared (I could tell a few lines were pre-prepared, but she fit them in very smoothly). She attacked the only person on the stage polling better than her, and she did it with excellent, on-topic points. When she interrupted, it was to give a substantive answer. Harris will absolutely see a bump from this debate, and it may be enough to get her into second place in the polls.
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