Here’s How Each Candidate Stood Out During The Debate

TPM Illustration/Getty Images
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

One thing we can say for sure: This debate, touted as a potential game changer, didn’t end up having the feel of one. We’ll see if the polls affirm that. Here’s what we saw with each candidate.

Joe Biden got through the debate without any issues. Predictions that the candidates would focus their attacks on him, the frontrunner, were true, but he survived them largely unscathed. At one point, he steamrolled the moderators to claim additional time. He was also the only candidate to be heckled during the debate.
Elizabeth Warren remains a strong debater, continually solid each time she takes the stage. She called for rolling back the filibuster to pass legislative priorities, including gun control, and consistently linked problems in America to money and politics. She delivered an impassioned closing statement that included an anecdote about looking for work while pregnant.
Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders. He and Warren tag-teamed defending Medicare For All, and mutedly disagreed with each other in other areas. But the two left-most candidates’ nonaggression pact held. At the end, asked to reflect on a challenge, he touted his record taking on “virtually every powerful special interest in the country.”
Kamala Harris spoke clearly in the health care section of the night, an area in which she’s struggled in the past after making contradictory statements on her plan. Harris successfully pivoted away from attacking her fellow candidates and aimed her ire at President Trump. A notable line about Trump’s trade war came as an analogy about the “really small dude” behind the curtain in the “Wizard of Oz.”
Pete Buttigieg talked a lot about his experience as a “military officer.” He struck a particularly personal note at the end of the debate when he recalled coming out as gay after coming back from a deployment and while he was running for office.
Andrew Yang kicked off the debate with a gambit that he described as unprecedented: he’d be handing out $1,000 at the end of the night to 10 families who went to his website. He didn’t get much time during the rest of the debate but did, again, distinguish himself as the one most different.
Cory Booker’s brand has become one of relentless optimism, and in his few moments on camera tonight he stayed true to it, especially during his closing statement. He also got served a weird “climate” question on his veganism, giving him a chance to demonstrate that he is one of the few candidates in the primary with a developed position on factory farming.
Beto O’Rourke, following the shooting last month in his hometown of El Paso, has reframed his campaign around the tragedy and tempered his stumping with an added dose of genuineness. He is the candidate who straightforwardly promises mandatory gun buybacks. His representation of his city on the campaign trail earned him plaudits from a number of the other candidates on stage tonight.
Amy Klobucher tonight seemed to be angling to distinguish herself as the candidate who could unite those who feel alienated by “extremes” — both within the Democratic Party and within the American political system. With the number of midwesterners significantly reduced from previous debates, she also sought to rep her region.
Julián Castro was one of two candidates tonight on his home turf. He went after Biden, as he did in previous debates, attacking him for the Obama administration’s stance on immigration and also, seemingly, on his age, asking Biden whether he was “forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”
Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: