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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Sanders
The first two 2020 Democratic presidential debates were to just get a flavor of how this voting season was going to shape up democratically, to see who has what it takes to go up against Donald Trump in a head-to-head. Thursday's debate was different, only inviting the 10 candidates who qualified, meaning most likely, the person who will become the Democratic nominee is in that 10.
A poll this month has all the top challengers beating Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden (D), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D). Trump is only 4 percent behind Buttigieg, but behind him nonetheless, while all others are double digits ahead of the current president.
That made this debate just that much more important.
Biden had a better debate than the previous two. His stumbles were limited, and later on he defended himself against the others, specifically Sanders and Castro. The senator attacked Biden's health plan, mentioning people going bankrupt when they get a serious illness such as cancer.
Biden told him, "I know about cancer, and it's personal to me." His son Beau died from cancer a few years ago and good friend Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) died of brain cancer just last year. He added that anyone diagnosed with cancer or another disease would be able to join his health care plan immediately, preventing them from going bankrupt.
Former HUD secretary Julián Castro repeatedly took veiled swipes at Biden's age, asking him more than once if he was "forgetting." But Biden didn't bow to that and also fully embraced his eight years spent as former President Barack Obama's number two.
Sanders went up against a few of the candidates, defending his Medicare-for-All plan for health care. He reminded everyone repeatedly, as he has before, that he wrote the bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said, "While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill," and added, "I don't think that's a bold idea; I think it's a bad idea." Sanders defended it and again said, "I wrote the damn bill!"
Biden hit back on Sanders's health care plan as well and had one slip that some may think is Freudian. "If you notice, nobody's yet said how much it's going to cost the taxpayer. I hear this, large savings, the president thinks — "
He corrected himself and continued, "My friend from Vermont thinks that the employer is going to give you back if you negotiate."
The former vice president also got a good line in telling Sanders, "For a socialist, you've got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do." The important thing here is that Biden and Klobuchar's comments are more memorable than Sanders's defense.
Warren didn't seem to get as many questions from the debate moderators and didn't do much to make sure she was being heard in absence of that.
But while she is known more for her domestic policies, she created a good answer to the question of whether she would pull troops out of Afghanistan.
She replied that she would, noting she had traveled there with the late Sen. McCain and that she had listened and talked with generals while on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, noting she often asks them "what winning looks like."
Warren wrapped up her response nicely by saying, "I have three older brothers who all served in the military," adding, "I understand firsthand the kind of commitment they have made. The will do anything we ask them to do. But we cannot ask them to solve problems that they alone cannot solve."
Harris still hasn't matched the finesse she showed in the first debate, but she was smart to make her opening statement all about Trump, even addressing him directly. Her closing line, "And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News," was along the lines of the zingers she was known for in the first debate.
She was grilled about her record as a former prosecutor, even in dealing with racial injustice which she hammered home in the first debate when she wanted to debate bussing with Biden. This time she hammered him about comments he made at a fundraiser, and he responded that the way she read his comments was a mischaracterization.
While Buttigieg isn't polling as well as the others, he's still ahead of Trump, placing him in the top tier, and he continues to have good showings at the debates.
In the debate over Medicare-for-All, he argued against it, stating, "If we're right as progressives that the public alternative is better, then the American people will figure that out for themselves."
He also had a winning takedown of Trump, stating, "When I first got into this race, I remember President Trump scoffed and said he'd like to see me making a deal with Xi Jinping. I'd like to see HIM making a deal with Xi Jinping," adding, "Is it just me, or was that supposed to happen in, like, April?"
The mayor had another great line with regard to public education, stating that as president he would "appoint a secretary of education who actually believes in public education."
If he continues to have good showings in the debates, he just may start to move up in the polls.
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