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Democratic Debate, Night One Analysis: The Candidates Performed Well, But The Pacing Caused Headaches [Opinion]

Who won the Democratic Debate, night one? I’ll tell you in a bit, but first, some commentary on the debate itself.

I was very impressed with the first round (of two) of Democratic debates on Wednesday evening.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 I liked hearing Warren’s response to gun issues — her insistence on using research to develop an answer on what we can do on the topic will appeal to centrists as well as progressives in the party.

It was wonderful hearing candidates like Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke speak in Spanish as well as in English, to demonstrate American inclusiveness and reject fear-based politics espoused by President Donald Trump.

Discussion on immigration, and the recognition of the sometimes deadly outcomes that migrants are facing as well as incredible hardships children are dealing with due to the administration’s policies, was spirited, emotional, and important.

And commentary about how this economy is doing well — for the wealthy elites, but not for the average citizen — had me clapping my hands toward my television screen.

Were there people who won or lost? Perhaps. And I wasn’t happy with every answer that candidates gave.

Yet the one issue that bothered me during the debate itself, which was not the fault of any candidate who took part in it, was the pace with which it moved at.

There wasn’t much that could be done about that — with 10 candidates onstage, movement from one question to the next, topic-to-topic, at a faster-than-usual pace was necessary.

However, the limitations of the program don’t change the fact that there was a glaring problem with it. Call me old-fashioned, but I like debates that allow me a second or two to think about what I just heard from a candidate. We can’t get that from a debate platform where there’s 10 people trying their hardest to stand out.

How does this get resolved? Some of the candidates on that stage need to be honest with themselves and ask: ‘do I belong on this debate stage, or could my talents be better used elsewhere, either with the office or position I presently hold or by seeking higher office elsewhere?’ The DNC will also be taking steps in the next debate to winnow the field a bit — steps that will probably help in the long-run, but could also do a disservice to candidates who deserve to be heard from.

But 10 candidates is just too much. And while I’m looking forward to hearing what the other 10 have to say on Thursday night, I’m also going to ready my ibuprofen bottle ahead of the second round of the debate, to deal with the impending headache that the format and pacing will inevitably create for the second night in a row.

OK, so who do I think won? Here’s my quick analysis of who won, who improved, and who had a surprising loss at the debate. Some will agree, others will vehemently disagree:

Elizabeth Warren. Warren’s big moment was calling gun deaths in the United States a health crisis. But she avoided what many top tier candidates have done in the past: making a mistake in her remarks (on that topic and others) that could have hurt her chances moving forward. I felt like, if you had to pick a winner on Wednesday, she’s the one.

Julian Castro. The former HUD Secretary improved his status after Wednesday night’s debate. His remarks were spirited but thoughtful for the Democratic base, and we shouldn’t expect him to be dropping out anytime soon. Nor should he: after hearing him speak, many Americans likely want to hear more from him.

Beto O’Rourke. The former Congressman from Texas who came close to unseating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year disappointed, in my mind, during the debate in Miami. Speaking in Spanish was impressive and smart, but he didn’t have any memorable moments beyond that. His performance was lacking, when it needed to be invigorating for him to be considered a top-tier candidate once again.



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