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Friday, April 12, 2024
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The remaining 10 of the 20 candidates participated in Night Two of the Democratic Primary Debates leading up to the 2020 election.

The Democratic Debates: Harris and Mayor Pete bring the heat

After night one’s fiery start, night two of the 2020 Democratic Primary Debates certainly did not disappoint. With candidates dodging questions, talking over each other, and saying way more than one or two words, it was not only an informative night of politics, but an entertaining one at that. 

While some names were very familiar, others were heard for the first time last night. The second half of the twenty eligible candidates — Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang — took the stage in Miami. From income inequality to institutional racism to the border crisis, the candidates attempted to win over the Democratic base of America, despite having 60 seconds or less at any given time. Although one debate may not have much weight, especially 18 months before the election, the effects of last night’s quarrel is sure to mix up the Democratic field, be it in the minds of voters or even in the polls. 

Although this was part two of the first debate, the premise of last night’s debate must be understood, for the circumstances were quite different. Firstly, this set of candidates had an extra 24 hours to prepare. They had knowledge of audience perceptions and the types of questions being asked. Secondly, by being the last batch, the amount of news coverage they receive is likely to increase in traditional media outlets – their comments are fresh in the minds of viewers. Thirdly, the make-up of this group holds 4 of the top 5 polling candidates (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg), sparking higher expectations. To some, these differences might seem irrelevant or minimal, but they are crucial in understanding each candidate’s approach and performance in last night’s debate. 

Key Takeaways: 

With epic one-liners, Senator Kamala Harris completely stole the show. The deliberate choice of her words, the anecdotal answers, and the presidential quality of her demeanor shined through this group of sprawling candidates. In the midst of everyone talking over each other, Harris was even able to silence them all by exclaiming, “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” Followed by a shrieking round of applause, Harris’s pervasive language triumphed, not just once, but repeatedly throughout the night. Most importantly, Harris went head-to-head with former Vice President Joe Biden. Calling him out on working with segregationist senators and his opposition to federal busing in the past, Harris clearly left Biden speechless. Her personal sentiments about the little girl busing to school won over the hearts of many. To say the least, Senator Harris was sure to deliver her message to the American public with sincerity and honesty. 

As Barack Obama’s VP, Joe Biden was America’s sweetheart. The brotherly love between the two had created a cultural, internet phenomenon. As the race’s front-runner in the polls, the audience’s expectations for the former Vice President were extremely high. Although attacks directed at him were anticipated, last night was particularly brutal. Even though he hoped to use more of talking time attacking President Donald Trump, Biden ended up having to defend himself. Not only that, but in the time he had, Biden repeatedly reminisced on the Obama years and his work as VP. To be honest, he seemed to be campaigning on Obama rather than himself. Biden simply did not perform to the standard that the people had expected, but in the end, only the polls will tell the true effects. 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (a personal favorite, but that’s besides the point) certainly showed up last night. Receiving quite a lot of attention after the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in his town of South Bend, Buttigieg’s response was highly awaited. Unexpectedly, Buttigieg took full responsibility and accountability for the racial disparity issues. The humility he exhibited was that of a true leader, and was refreshing to see. Buttigieg also offered realistic plans for free college for the lower and middle-class and for a transition to Medicare for All. He even got a few laughs from the audience, highlighting that he will be the current age of the current president in 2055. His young age allowed him to connect with audiences on the issues of climate change, student debt, and gun control. As the first gay candidate running for President, Mayor Pete surely turned some heads last night, standing strong in a crowded field. 

A favorite from the 2016 Presidential election, high expectations were set for Senator Bernie Sanders. His highly progressive policy proposals have caught the eye of many voters as he swings farther left than most candidates in the field. By fiercely advocating for universal health care, tackling the fossil fuel industry, pharmaceutical companies, and Wall Street, Sanders stuck to his message throughout the night. However, the constant repetition of the same answer, and at times not answering the question at all, may have worked against Sanders’ favor. At the end of the day, he managed to stay in the game, but due to the spotlight on Harris to his immediate right, Sanders was certainly overshadowed by her grandeur. 

With the focus on these four candidates, the other six scrambled to get talk time and make their respective messages heard. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attempted to interject a many times over the course of the night, but her efforts were not as successful as she may have hoped. However, her nod to the victims of Parkland highschool shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, garnered applause. Highlighting the importance of a Family Bill of Rights, abortion access, and women’s rights, Gillibrand  branded herself as the candidate for women. Former Mayor John Hickenlooper made a name for himself as well, but as the only true Moderate of all the candidates. By questioning the extremely liberal positions of fellow candidate Bernie Sanders, Hickenlooper made it clear that in his view, socialism is not the solution to defeating Donald Trump. 

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Senator Michael Bennet made little headway in yesterday’s debate. With just 2:58 seconds of talk time for Yang, the one notable event for the candidate last night was the online response to him not wearing a tie, which frankly speaks for itself. Michael Bennet, who I would categorize as a second tier candidate, only met the 1% polling threshold for the debate, and not the 65,000 donor requirement. He managed to call out both Biden and Sanders over the two hours, but did not make a lasting impression. 

Representative Eric Swalwell surprisingly garnered a few moments of fame in last night’s debate, calling for generational change and nodding to the age of both Biden and Sanders. He even received a round of applause when stating, “I was six 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. That candidate was… Joe Biden.” He even confronted Mayor Pete on not firing the police chief in response to the South Bend shooting, while also probing Bernie Sanders on responding to buybacks of assault rifles. Swalwell’s attempt to step foot in the game may have worked, but with an unprecedented amount of candidates, it’s likely to not have been enough. 

Now, last but certainly not least, if anyone made a show last night, it was the author herself - Marianne Williamson. Yes, you read that correctly, she is an author (largely of self-help books). If I could describe Williamson, she’s like your grandmother who lives on a white ranch with a wrap-around porch in Texas, making sweet tea while gossiping about her family members. The internet went crazy in light of her response to the question asking candidates’ first act as president. Williamson proudly said she would call the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and say, “Girlfriend, you are so on!” in making the United States the best country for a child to grow up. Williamson’s unique and unconventional answers even landed her the most Googled candidate during the debate. Being the motivational speaker she is, Williamson ended on fighting Donald Trump by leading with love. Who knows– maybe she’s right. Maybe all we need is love, and love is all we need. 

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Final Thoughts

As the official kick-off to the coming 18-month election season, night two of the democratic debates showcased many of the candidates. In a debate full of ideas, contentions, and emotions, it was clear that Harris was the night’s winner, with Buttigieg stealing hearts as well. Although the Biden vs. Sanders factor was highly anticipated, the debate left voters with a new set of candidates to rally behind. 

But, it’s also important to understand that over the course of this next year, there will be plenty more opportunities to get to know the candidates and their policy proposals. Nothing is definitive at such an early stage. And as college students, and many being Wisconsin voters, our voices have the potential to effect dramatic change. As a state with high stakes in the 2020 election, we must continue to educate ourselves on the candidates who run to represent us.

It’s safe to say that unlike night one of the debates, night two was definitely more dramatic, yet it still gave optimism to look forward to a more hopeful future. If this debate gave us a taste for what’s to come, it’s that the 2020 election is one to be invested in, for it has the potential to be a turning point in US politics. So strap yourselves in, this election cycle is going to be a wild one. 

Kavitha is a junior studying political science and sociology, with a certificate in educational policy. What are your thoughts on night two of the democratic debates? Do you agree that Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg were the night’s winners? Send all comments to

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