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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – First Democratic Presidential Debate, Part II

In “Kamala Harris’s home run” at CNN Opinion, Paul Begala writes, “The debate soon descended into a free-for-all, with multiple politicians talking over each other. But when the smoke cleared, Kamala Harris had the first home run of the night. “Guys,” she said, “America doesn’t want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we’re gonna put food on their table.”  That’s how you create a Moment in a debate.” Harris also scored against Biden with her takedown of his recent remarks about bussing and working with segregationist Senators during the 1960s.

A panel assembled by The Guardian also gave Harris the night. But one panelist, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen observed, “One of the real winners was actually Elizabeth Warren…Kamala Harris wowed early when, during shouting chaos among the 10 candidates, she reminded the other candidates that Americans “don’t want a food fight; they want to know how to put food on the table”. She was powerful, precise and put her formidable legal skills to work on camera attacking Joe Biden’s record on race and bussing…Biden worked hard to tie himself to President Obama and aggressively defend his civil rights record, but he struggled under Harris’s withering prosecutor-style cross-examination…One of the debate’s other winners wasn’t even present: Elizabeth Warren – who, along with Harris, has clearly taken Bernie Sanders’ mantle as flag-bearer for the progressive base. Sanders started the revolution, but Warren and Harris seem poised to execute it.”

You wouldn’t want to bet the ranch on any candidate at this early political moment. But Reed Richardson reports that “Kamala Harris Jumps to Second Place in Major Online Betting Markets After Debate, Biden Drops” at Mediaite: “PredictIt now shows Harris in second place for the 2020 Democratic nomination with a betting price at 19 cents, having jumped seven cents from just before the debate. She now stands at second place, just behind Joe Biden (21 cents, dropped three cents) and just ahead of Warren (18 cents, dropped three cents) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (15 cents, dropped three cents) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (15 cents, up three cents)…Betfair also showed a strong shift to Harris, who now stands in second place there as well. Biden still leads with odds of nearly 4-to-1, but Harris is now roughly a 5-to-1 bet, with Warren just behind at 5.5-to-1. Similar to PredictIt, Sanders and Buttigieg trail the top three with odds at 7 and 9-to-1, respectively.”

“Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris raised their hands at the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate to declare they wanted to abolish private health insurance, and for the next 20 minutes, some of the other candidates on stage tried to talk them out of it.,” reports Dylan Scott in his post, “Medicare for all” vs. “Medicare for all who want it” at vox.com. “I feel strongly that families should have the choice,” Sen. Michael Bennet, who has aggressively positioned himself as opposed to single-payer, said. “That’s what the American people want.”…Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and even Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another cosponsor of Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill, emphasized choice again and again. They argued people should be allowed to choose whether to keep their private insurance (about 150 million Americans currently get coverage through their job) or join a new government plan. They were clearly uncomfortable with Sanders’s prescription, which would put everybody into a government plan after four years.”

Rep. Eric Swallwell scored a zinger against Mayor Pete Buttigieg. As Jessica Campisi reports at The Hill, “Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) needled Mayor Pete Buttigieg on his handling of a police-involved shooting in his hometown of South Bend, Ind., telling Buttigieg on the Democratic debate stage that he should fire the city’s police chief…While Buttigieg said he “accept[s] responsibility” for the shooting, in which a white police officer fatally shot a 54-year-old black man, Swalwell interrupted to tell the mayor: “You should fire the chief.”…“So, under Indiana law, this will be investigated and there will be accountability for the officer involved,” Buttigieg replied.“ But you’re the mayor,” Swalwell fired back…He reiterated: “You’re the mayor. You should fire the chief, if that’s the policy and someone died…As Swalwell jabbed at Buttigieg, the mayor’s facial expression quickly gained traction on Twitter. CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza described Buttigieg’s look as a “death stare.””

Swallwell also had a zinger for Biden disguised as praise. As Tim Dickinson reports at Rolling Stone: “Swalwell, a 38-year-old congressman from California, showed he belonged on the big stage. Talking about the need to prepare our children for the future, Swalwell rocked the crowd to sleep with what seemed like an anodyne vignette from his childhood, but then exploded to the rim, dunking on the former vice president…“I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans,” he said. “That candidate was then-senator Joe Biden.”..“Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago,” Swalwell added. “He is still right today.” Biden smiled, and shook his head, and seemed like he might salvage the moment. But his lame comeback only underscored how badly he’d just been posterized: “I’m still holding on to that torch,” he said.” But Swallwell’s ‘pass the torch’ zinger may have backfired, with large numbers of young voters who support Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as seniors who support Biden.

From “Who Held the Floor” at FiveThirtyEight:

Number of words spoken by candidates participating in either night of the first Democratic debate

2 Joe Biden 2475
1 Cory Booker 2181
2 Kamala Harris 2147
2 Pete Buttigieg 2072
1 Beto O’Rourke 1932
2 Bernie Sanders 1676
1 Elizabeth Warren 1637
1 Amy Klobuchar 1614
1 Julián Castro 1588
2 Michael Bennet 1462
2 Kirsten Gillibrand 1421
1 Tim Ryan 1383
1 Tulsi Gabbard 1243
1 John Delaney 1060
2 Marianne Williamson 983
2 Eric Swalwell 966
2 John Hickenlooper 951
1 Bill de Blasio 881
1 Jay Inslee 875
2 Andrew Yang 594

For those who want more instant metrics, Lauren Frias shares “The 5 most interesting Google Trends from day 2 of the first 2020 Democratic debates” at Business Insider: “Google Trends tracked the debate-related search interests throughout the debate and tweeted out the most interesting stats…Google Trends ranked the 10 candidates by search interest, with author Marianne Williamson being the most searched…However, during the debate, Sen. Kamala Harris was the top trending topic in search ‘on all of Google’ in the United States…Harris brought up the topic of busing during the debate, causing a surge in search of the topic by over 3,000%.”

You can find plenty of articles parroting the common wisdom that Elizabeth Warren has eclipsed Sen. Bernie Sanders with many of the same ideas, which she shrewdly frames as capitalist reform. But Elaine Godfrey argues quite persuasively that “Bernie Sanders’s Ideas Dominated the Second Debate: Joe Biden may be the front-runner, but the senator from Vermont set the terms of the conversation” at The Atlantic: “Several of the candidates seemed to define themselves against Sanders, reflexively comparing and contrasting their agenda with his. It was a reminder of just how popular the senator from Vermont’s ideas have become since his first campaign, in 2016: His policies have dominated discussion for much of the past three years, helping pry open the Democrats’ Overton window, inch by inch…The candidates, again and again, were playing the game on Sanders’s turf. He didn’t receive the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2016, and he might not secure it in 2020. But when the issues he’s long championed are being debated before 15 million Americans, in some ways he’s already won.” And even if Sanders doesn’t make the 2020 Democratic ticket, the nominee will owe a debt of gratitude to the tough guy who compelled the Democratic Party to reclaim its progressive heritage.

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes – First Democratic Presidential Debate, Part II

  1. Candace on

    “Guys,” she said, “America doesn’t want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we’re gonna put food on their table.”

    Cringe-worthy. Seriously. I don’t know if I’m going to watch these things anymore at least not until the pool of candidates shrinks considerably.

  2. Candace on

    Kamala Harris had some effective made for TV moments against Biden but I didn’t see anything in her attack that made her look like she was the better candidate to run against Trump or why Biden wouldn’t be.


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