Takeaways From This Campaign’s Biggest Democratic Debate

WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October... WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
October 15, 2019 9:43 p.m.

October’s debate stage saw the biggest crowd of presidential hopefuls yet, 12 candidates shoulder-to-shoulder to address impeachment for the first time since House Democrats formally announced their inquiry against President Trump.

The candidates also sparred over health care and wealth inequality, along with foreign policy as Turkey launches an incursion in Syria.

With the qualifying bar rising significantly for the November debate, the stakes were high. Here are the major takeaways from the biggest debate this presidential cycle:

Impeachment, impeachment, impeachment 

To the surprise of no one, the debate started out all about the impeachment inquiry. It had to be talked about, but there is little sunlight between the presidential hopefuls on this issue right now.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) had the most creative take, somehow including the laments of suffering farmers in her answer.

“We have a constitutional duty to pursue this impeachment,” she said. “We also can stand up for America because this president has not been putting America in front of his own personal interests. He has not been standing up for the workers of Ohio. He has not been standing up for the farmers in Iowa.”

Biden’s explanation for Hunter’s job 

It took him a while to get there, but former Vice President Joe Biden finally settled into his response on his son’s board position on a Ukrainian gas company, concluding that he’s proud of him and that President Donald Trump tried to manufacture a scandal because of his fear of Biden’s candidacy.

Biden clearly wants to move off the topic of his son’s politically questionable, though legal, decision to sit on the board, but circumventing the question makes him look shady. He has the benefit of being innocent here, but still seems to be struggling to mold a quick, cohesive response.

“My son’s statement speaks for itself,” Biden said. “I did my job. I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything having do with Ukraine. No one has indicated I have. We have kept everything separate, even when my son was the attorney general of the state of Delaware. We never discussed anything so there would be no potential conflict.”

Warren takes some heat 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) entered this debate as one of the two frontrunners for the first time. Accordingly, she’s a bigger target.

She took some took some heat from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar on health care, though neither of the attacks seemed to land particularly hard. The debate format is inhospitable to health care explanations, so it was hard to follow the content of the criticism.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) got in on the action too, accusing Warren of “pitting” parts of the country against each other during the wealth inequality portion.

Women’s healthcare FINALLY gets its moment 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) plucked the low-hanging fruit of mentioning that women’s health care and reproductive rights have been completely omitted from all the debates thus far. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) brought up the glaring absence as well.

Roe v. Wade finally came up later in the night. Multiple candidates voiced their support for codifying the precedent in law.

Sanders gets asked about his health

After suffering a heart attack in recent weeks, Sanders has had to ramp down his campaigning.

When asked Tuesday if he’s up to job of being President, he invited the crowd to an upcoming rally in Queens and thanked the other candidates for their “love” and “prayers.”

A truly groan-worthy final question

In lieu of any questions about climate change, education or affordable housing, the moderators chose to close the event with the recent drama about comedian Ellen DeGeneres attending a baseball game with former President George W. Bush to ask about a friendship candidates have that challenge their beliefs.

It’s a divisive time and commonality feels hard to come by, so the emotional appeal makes sense. But we only get a few opportunities to see the people vying for the Oval Office explain their beliefs.  A warm and fuzzy civility question teaches us very little, except for each candidate’s preparedness with a canned, feel-good, cross-the-aisle anecdote.
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