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Democratic Debate, Night Two Analysis: A Clear Winner Emerges In Kamala Harris [Opinion]

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Two nights of debates among 20 Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination. Two nights with 10 candidates each trying to come out the winner.

And on both of those two nights, a woman came out ahead of their colleagues within their respective debates.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

I already pointed out my opinion that Elizabeth Warren was the winner of “night one” of the two nights of the first official Democratic debate of the 2020 campaign season (quite a sentence, right?). On Thursday, there was another clear winner: Kamala Harris.

My major complaint of the first debate — that the pacing was too fast, making it difficult to actually absorb any given candidate’s answers — remained true. That’s an issue which must be addressed, and hopefully will be rectified by the next Democratic Party debate.

Within those limits, what most every Democrat had to say on the stage Thursday night was a net positive. Proposals were made, statements said, that were a stark departure from President Donald Trump’s beliefs and policies. That alone made any of the candidates far better than he.

Yet there was a clear winner on Thursday night’s edition of the first Democratic Debate(s): Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

Her presence on the debate stage was definitely felt. She went after her opponents, but in a respectful way. And at times, she played referee, telling her peers not to engage in spirited back-and-forths that weren’t constructive. 

“America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how they’re going to put food on their table,” she told her fellow Democrats, per reporting from The New Yorker, intervening between an argument others were having. 

Huge applause followed

That said, she wasn’t afraid to go on the attack either. She addressed former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statements, in which he hearkened back to a bipartisan era in American politics — but which also celebrated segregationist lawmakers.

Harris made it a point to tell Biden, “I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” she said to the former vice president, the New York Times reported. But she went on…

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two U.S. Senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said.

She also attacked Biden on the issue of federal involvement in busing, NPR reported.

Biden, for his own part, tried to respond to Harris’s criticisms. But he fell short, in many ways, of doing so, responding to her criticisms in a way that felt impersonal, numbering off each point she made.

Biden has indeed worked on many positive civil rights issues. Yet on this question, he struggled to look empathetic and heartfelt. That will likely hurt him in the coming days.

He was the frontrunner, so anything short of staying ahead of everyone else would be seen as a negative. In that regard, he “lost” the debate on Thursday. But at the same time, I don’t think you can call him a loser — he went on the attack against Trump, he scored applause at numerous points, and recounted other positive aspects of his past record.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg did well in the debate also, making several good points and not faltering under pressure. Sen. Bernie Sanders had ups and downs, which will likely put his “average” performance in the positive column when the dust has settled.

Still, the obvious winner was Harris. 

The California Senator has earned a spot as a top-tier candidate after Thursday night’s performance. So has Warren, after her debate win on Wednesday. Biden remains in that top-tier, if only because he was already the frontrunner and didn’t necessarily fail on Thursday.

But he’s definitely got some competition heading into this next leg of the campaign season. It’s refreshing to see, and historical, that two of the top three coming out of this week’s debate are both women.

Debate #1 for Democrats is over — and things have shifted quite a bit.



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