Who shined and who fell out of the spotlight Tuesday during the first of a two-night Democratic presidential primary debate series?
The State asked two South Carolina-based Democratic strategists, a political scientist and a former S.C. Democratic Party vice chairwoman, to weigh in on who had the best night, who had the worst night and who walked away with the best one-liner.
Tuesday was the first of a two-night debate series in Detroit, Michigan — seven months ahead of the first-in-the-South primary.
Candidates on the stage the first night were: author Marianne Williamson; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland; and former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
We circled back with strategists Antjuan Seawright and Jimmy Williams, College of Charleston political scientist Jordan Ragusa and Kaye Koonce, a former first vice chair of the S.C. Democratic Party and superdelegate, to see what each had to say about the debate.
Who won the debate and why?
▪ Koonce: ”Elizabeth Warren won (again) because of her overall strong performance and she made the clearest statements of Democratic Party principles, as well as reminding Democrats that we cannot be afraid to fight hard in this election. She presented a person Democrats can see standing up to Trump in a debate and winning.”
▪ Ragusa: ”Several candidates had a good evening, including Warren, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke, but Bernie Sanders won the night. He had many great applause lines, was both combative and smart in his answers, and by my unscientific count, received the greatest amount of speaking time. Joe Biden also won the night even though he wasn’t on the stage. He’s the front-runner and, unless I missed it, none of the candidates challenged him by name.”
▪ Seawright: “Elizabeth Warren demonstrated why she is front-runner on this debate stage. ... She was very aggressive and brought clarity to her policy positions. She actually separated herself from Bernie Sanders on the debate stage. I thought Marianne Williamson had a good night (and) I thought Bullock showed why he would be a good Senate candidate in Montana.”
▪ Williams: ”Sen. Warren was solid steady and passionate in her rebuttals. She won on those merits alone but Mayor Pete really rose to the occasion and gave them all a wake-up call.”
What was the best line or moment of the night and why?
▪ Koonce: “Senator Amy Klobuchar had one of the best lines of the night, not just because of the actual statement but because she came across overall as realistic, presidential, and electable. “We can’t be more worried about winning the argument than winning an election.”
Honorable mention to Mayor Pete Buttigieg for this line: “It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. It’s true if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda ... they’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”
▪ Ragusa: ”Elizabeth Warren received the greatest applause when she challenged John Delaney saying she doesn’t know why anyone runs for president ‘just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.’ Delaney got beat up throughout the night but Warren killed his campaign.”
▪ Seawright: “When Bernie said, ‘I wrote the damn plan’ about what his health care plan does and doesn’t include.”
▪ Williams: ”Best line of the night was when Sen. Warren gave the simplistic cliff notes on the insurance industry. It was something every American can relate to.”
What was the worst line or moment of the night and why?
▪ Koonce: ”I’d say virtually any of the disjointed and unrealistic comments by Marianne Williamson except I think she is too irrelevant to take the ‘honor.’ And, speaking of someone else who I think will soon be totally irrelevant, former Congressman John Delaney had several of the worst moments. Two of these were when Bernie Sanders challenged his personal investments in the healthcare industry as well as one of the most memorable moments of the night, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to his attack on her policies, ‘I genuinely do not understand why anyone would go to all the trouble of running for president just to get up on this stage and talk about what’s not possible.’ “
▪ Ragusa: “I thought the worst moment ran throughout the night: CNN’s one-minute response on questions and 30-second rule on follow up questions. Complex issues like health care require more substance than CNN’s debate rules allowed, and the debate moderators kept cutting off the candidates at critical moments. I thought the rules ruined the debate.”
▪ Seawright: “I don’t know if there was a worst line. I think John Delaney did not do a good job on making his case crystal clear to the voters and separating himself.
▪ Williams: ”Worst moment of the night was when Warren and Delaney sparred repeatedly on the issues. It became personal and both looked petty.”
Who had a breakout moment?
▪ Koonce: ”I believe Amy Klobuchar really did well. She garnered much more time in this debate. She showed passion and she successfully made the point that she has won in the Midwest, in a red state and (where) she has ‘gotten things done.’ “
▪ Ragusa: ”Pete Buttigieg had a breakout evening with a solidly above average performance across the board. He didn’t have the best line of the night, he didn’t garner the most speaking time, and he didn’t win the debate, but he showed his versatility as a candidate. Debates this early in the campaign are about surviving and Buttigieg certainly did that.”
▪ Seawright: “I definitely think between Bullock and Marianne Williamson. But I think it would be a hard pill to swallow for them to be the nominee.”
▪ Williams: ”If anyone poo poos Marianne Williamson’s performance tonight, they’re nuts. She slayed that debate stage tonight. Sadly (or not), she’s still a fringe candidate and will remain so. “