On Wednesday night, the 2020 Democratic primaries finally got underway in earnest as 10 of the 20 candidates who had met the party's eligibility criteria took to the stage in Miami for the first of two nights of debating.
Through a random draw, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was alone among the top candidates in early polling on night one. She squared off against former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Sen Cory Booker, Julián Castro--Obama’s former HUD Secretary--Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The stakes were low in one sense: There have been very few incidents in the history of televised debates where some dramatic exchange or a candidate’s demeanor moved the needle with voters. Neither occurred on Wednesday. And while the primaries have been raging on political Twitter for months, many typical voters won’t start paying attention to the race for months.
But in another sense, they couldn’t have been higher. These debates will help shape the media narratives of the race. They also present an important opportunity for some candidates who haven’t gained traction in early polls to show the political junkies, donors and party activists who tune into these events that they’re true contenders, and for others to kick-start moribund campaigns with some much-needed national visibility. While the next debate in July will be similarly wide-open, the lower tier candidates also have to look ahead to meeting the stricter criteria to be included in the third round of debates in August.
Here were some of the key moments of the evening.
Warren’s leadoff home run…
The first question out of the gate was about how the candidates might approach the fact that, overall, the economy is pretty strong.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the economy. WATCH LIVE: https://t.co/5ikm9ThyPo #DemDebate #Decision2020 https://t.co/aSRPCObigP— NBC Chicago (@NBC Chicago)1561600625.0
(She also finished the night strong.)
De Blasio says it’s about the soul of the party…
Overall, Wednesday’s debate was a civil affair, as early debates tend to be, and while the candidates differed over policy, they presented a relatively unified front overall.
New York’s Mayor wasn’t having it.
“It matters in this fight for the heart and soul of our party that we nominate a candidate who has seen the face of… https://t.co/9idtffmkq4— CAP Action (@CAP Action)1561604098.0
The healthcare debate…
One of the more heated exchanges of the night came during one of the more detailed policy discussions. When asked for a show of hands from candidates who would “eliminate private insurance,” Warren and de Blasio’s hands went up.
Democratic candidates @BetoORourke @BilldeBlasio & @JohnDelaney debate eliminating private health insurance and Med… https://t.co/iVHlQBmSA7— NBC News NOW (@NBC News NOW)1561599845.0
Trump’s catastrophic immigration policies…
They began with one of this week's most tragic events…
Castro, Booker, O'Rourke and de Blasio mentioned Óscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, dur… https://t.co/RNrHwMY6RM— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Bloomberg Quicktake)1561605663.0
Castro and Beto then engaged in an intense but wonky exchange about immigration law.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke face off over immigration during the… https://t.co/zgpVFXcamc— Los Angeles Times (@Los Angeles Times)1561605684.0
Booker says the issue of gun violence is personal…
Cory Booker has made gun violence prevention a cornerstone of his campaign, calling for federal licenses to purchase guns, making handguns easier to trace and repealing the law that insulates gun manufacturers from liability suits. On Wednesday, he said that seven people had been shot in his neighborhood in just the last week and the issue was personal.
Booker on gun violence: "It is time that we have bold actions and bold agenda ... this is not about policy, this is… https://t.co/lvd2ZXS1Bt— MSNBC (@MSNBC)1561602080.0
Tim Ryan also weighed in on school shootings…
We need to start dealing with the trauma that our kids have. We need trauma-based care in every school. https://t.co/6oqQGmrmNg— Tim Ryan (@Tim Ryan)1561603904.0
What to do about McConnell?
One of the better questions of the night was about how the candidates would overcome Republican obstruction if they should win the White House but not the Senate.
Does Senator Warren have a plan to "deal with" Mitch McConnell if she's elected president with a Republican senate?… https://t.co/j2s5iKZ9Mo— CNBC (@CNBC)1561603099.0
Ryan and Gabbard go head-to-head over Afghanistan…
Should we stay or should we go?
Ryan: "We must stay engaged [in Middle East]." Gabbard: "Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldi… https://t.co/Bn1tgmHyQ8— NBC Politics (@NBC Politics)1561604233.0
Were there other moments that stood out for you? Tell us in the comments.