Takeaways From the Atlanta Debate

Another bad night for Joe Biden
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 21, 2019 4:07 AM CST
Updated Nov 21, 2019 6:23 AM CST
Takeaways From the Atlanta Debate
Kamala Harris speaks as Andrew Yang looks on during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta.   (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls debated in Atlanta Wednesday night—and compared to earlier debates, there was a distinct lack of fireworks, with candidates largely opting to focus on President Trump and other issues instead of attacking each other. Many had expected candidates to train their fire on Pete Buttigieg after his rise in the Iowa polls, but he did not face heavy criticism until near the end of the debate, when Amy Klobuchar said the 37-year-old South Bend mayor lacked experience and Tulsi Gabbard targeted him on foreign policy, the New York Times reports. Kamala Harris declined to attack him directly, though she made an apparent reference to his lack of support among black voters. More takeaways:

  • Another bad night for Biden. After a "shaky" performance and some awkward answers, the former vice president tops the list of debate losers at the Washington Post. On the issue of violence against women, he chose his words very poorly, promising he would "keep punching at it and punching at it and punching." He also said he had been endorsed by the "only" black woman ever elected to the Senate, apparently forgetting the existence of Harris, who was a few feet away from him. "No, that’s not true. The other one is here," she said, laughing.

  • Mixed result for Buttigieg. David Siders at Politico says the lack of the expected pile-on was not a great result for the Iowa frontrunner. "A good night for him would have been two hours of attacks, with the emerging narrative that he had fended off the assault," Siders says. "He didn’t even get the chance." He says Klobuchar did a lot to help her campaign by "more effectively occupying the 'centrist alternative to Biden' lane than anyone else on stage."
  • Calls to reassemble the "Obama coalition." A major focus was the importance of black and other minority voters, with Harris saying Democrats need to reassemble "the Obama coalition" to defeat Trump, the AP reports. "I’ve had a lot of experience with black voters," Cory Booker said. "I've been one since I was 18."
  • Rifts on taxation, health care. While the atmosphere was mostly civil, the divide between centrist and leftist candidates was evident on issues like Medicare for All, the Wall Street Journal reports. Candidates including Klobuchar and Biden attacked the plan supported by Warren and Bernie Sanders. "The fact is that right now, the vast majority of Democrats don’t support Medicare for All," Biden said. Warren's planned wealth tax was also criticized.
  • All-female panel of moderators. The all-female panel of moderators at the MSNBC-hosted debate made an impact, according to the Hill. There was more focus on issues including paid family leave and abortion rights than in previous debates.
  • Strong night for low pollers. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver says Booker and Klobuchar "were the strongest from the start of the night to the finish, but given their position in the polls, they probably need to generate some post-debate buzz and build some momentum over the course of the next few weeks." Geoffrey Skelley says that despite his relative lack of speaking time, Andrew Yang "had one of the stronger nights of any candidate on stage." One of Yang's most memorable lines came when he was asked what he would say to Vladimir Putin if he won the presidency. "I’m sorry I beat your guy," Yang said. Silver says that out of national frontrunners Biden, Sanders, and Warren, Sanders had the best night.
(More Democratic debate stories.)

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