Warren, Booker Dominate First Debate

But other surprising performances, too

Ten Democratic presidential candidates take the stage for the first of two debates in Miami./ NBC-Telemundo

One debate down, one debate to go. Ten Democrats took center stage in Miami Wednesday night in the first of two Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential campaign. 

The debate, sponsored by NBC-Telemundo-MSNBC, should have been labeled “Not the Top Tier,” because more than half of the candidates were among the low contenders, and some viewers struggled to identify everyone. When Cong. Tim Ryan spoke, some folks on Twitter remarked, “Who is this guy?” 

The best debaters of the night were Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Julían Castro.

In fact, Massachusetts Sen. Warren likely exited the debate hall in a stronger position than when she entered. She dominated the debate from the start with her brand of passion and progressivism, sticking up for the working class for whom the economy is not doing so great, she said, and calling for structural changes in the economy, among other things. She pushed Medicare for All, a first for her. 

Not sure if Warren even prepped because she spent the day before at a migrant detention center in Homestead, as did Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar. (Nearly all the candidates have visited the facility, making it the go-to stop in Florida among Democratic presidential hopefuls. Reports indicate, however, that Warren and Klobuchar missed this week’s Senate vote on the border bill, which would have been really helpful to the children. )

Hispandering Beto 

Una palabra sobre Beto O’Rourke, who got the second highest speaking time, about 10.5 minutes. This being Miami, the most Latino city in Florida, accounting for 70 percent of its population, O’Rourke couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a little Hispandering. He broke into Spanish on a question about individual tax rates, which he didn’t really answer. HIs Spanish is excellent, but it was apropos of nothing. 

And while on the topic of O’Rourke, he hasn’t regained his footing since taking on Sen. Ted Cruz, and his debate performance didn’t help. He looked haggard, with a five o’clock shadow that was reminiscent of Richard Nixon in the 1960 debate with John Kennedy


Then along came former Housing Secretary Castro to give O’Rourke a resounding smackdown on immigration reform, essentially saying O’Rourke didn’t go far enough. Castro focused on immigration throughout the night, reminding people of the deaths of a father and daughter this week while attempting to reach the United States, and challenging the candidates to refute the separation of families. 

Castro, who gave a surprisingly strong performance, spoke nearly nine minutes, spending about half his time on immigration … because if candidates are going to visit the Homestead migrant detention center, it should be about more than optics. Former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland spoke the least about immigration, and Hawaii Cong. Tulsi Gabbard didn’t address the topic at all.  

And by the way, the only candidate who mentioned Puerto Rico was Castro and only in passing to a climate change question.

Time Hog

New Jersey Sen. Booker also spoke Spanish, though less convincingly than O’Rourke for it was unintelligible. But luckily for Booker, he had the most speaking time of any candidate – 11 minutes – hammering subjects like criminal justice reform and gun violence. “There are more African Americans under criminal supervision than there were slaves in 1850,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was another surprising debater, turning in a stronger-than-expected performance. He was among the first candidates to interrupt, attempting to be the conscience of the Democratic Party. “This is supposed to be the party for working people,” said De Blasio, who spoke nearly six minutes.

As expected, Klobuchar occupied the political middle ground throughout the debate. She reminded voters, “I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in a bathrobe at five in the morning.” She took on the male candidates on abortion, saying that the three women on the stage had done their fair share of work defending a woman’s right to choose.  

Nitty Gritty 

Who should exit the 2020 presidential campaign based on the first debate? Probably Delaney of Maryland, Tim Rya, De Blasio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Gabbard of Hawaii should go too. Her only mark on the stage was a tough exchange with Ryan, in which she said his response to a question on war was “unacceptable. We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.” 

That would leave 15 candidates remaining, likely fewer after the results of the second debate Thursday night with top-tier contenders. 

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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