This Nevada Democratic debate came at a crucial time in the primary — and it showed.
In perhaps the most striking departure from previous debate night strategies, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) came out of the gate swinging and eager to engage the other candidates in fights over policy or past records.
She trained much of her fire on former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, especially on reports that he encouraged and contributed to a sexually hostile work environment. She pushed him to release his female former employees from their nondisclosure agreements right there on the stage.
But Bloomberg wasn’t her only target. On health care, she called former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s plan a “PowerPoint” written by “consultants,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) plan a “Post-it” and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) a “good start.”
Warren was candid about her disappointment in her performance at the New Hampshire debate two weeks ago, telling the panel afterward that she didn’t “fight hard enough” to show people how badly she wants the presidency. That feeling, and the fact that she spoke more only than Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang at that debate, clearly fueled a tactical shift tonight.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also kept up a higher-than-usual energy presentation, if less pugnacious than Warren’s. He did cite Bloomberg every time he name-checked the billionaire class, and went after the progressives on health care.
Most notably, Biden served up more specifics and statistics in his answers Wednesday night, perhaps responding to criticism that he tends to resort to generalities. He started the night by touting a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing him leading the pack in head-to-head matchups against President Donald Trump.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), always a strong debater, sparred ferociously with fellow moderate Buttigieg.
One of those moments came when Buttigieg unrelentingly pressed her on forgetting the name of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Klobuchar delivered some fire in her response, incredulously asking if he was calling her “dumb” and launching a blistering attack on Buttigieg’s lack of experience.
“You’ve memorized a lot of talking points,” she quipped at one point.
Buttigieg seemed to have special knives out for Klobuchar, in return.
At one point, he specifically attacked her record on her votes for Trump’s judges. She parried with criticisms about his limited experience.
Buttigieg also tied Sanders and Bloomberg together about their lack of transparency: the former for his refusal to release his full medical records, and the latter for his NDAs.
Sanders largely stayed out of the infighting, content to stay to the background of many of the most contentious exchanges. As the current frontrunner, Sanders has good reason to try to get through the debates unscathed, so as not to dent his momentum.
Bloomberg undeniably took the most heat of the evening in his first debate appearance — and seemed somewhat unprepared. He largely fell back on prepared answers and kept a scowl on his face for most of the night.
He showed some real passion during the climate change section, a cause to which he’s donated millions of his personal wealth. However, his response on the NDAs and settlements involving former female employees, downplaying a few “jokes” he may have made, actually garnered some boos from the debate audience.