Helton: 20 Out of 20: Who hit the spot for the second helping of debates?

More winners, more losers, and more to talk about after the second round of Democratic presidential debates.

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Helton: 20 Out of 20: Who hit the spot for the second helping of debates?

Attendees converse during a debate watch party for Sen. Cory Booker at Mosley's on July 31, 2019. This is the second night of the second round of debates for democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Attendees converse during a debate watch party for Sen. Cory Booker at Mosley's on July 31, 2019. This is the second night of the second round of debates for democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Ryan Adams

Attendees converse during a debate watch party for Sen. Cory Booker at Mosley's on July 31, 2019. This is the second night of the second round of debates for democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Attendees converse during a debate watch party for Sen. Cory Booker at Mosley's on July 31, 2019. This is the second night of the second round of debates for democratic candidates. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

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The second round of Democratic presidential debates took place July 30 and 311 with 20 candidates participating. Similar to how I wrapped up the first debates in 20 Out of 20, I’m going to look at the biggest winners and losers of both debates.

 

Starting with the first night:

Winner: Elizabeth Warren

The woman with a plan was at it again. The Massachusetts senator was pitted against mostly moderate opponents and won the on-stage argument. Positively championing big ideas seems like the winning argument instead of, in her words, saying, “What we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”

Winner: Bernie Sanders

As Warren’s lone progressive ally on July 30, the Vermont senator tag-teamed to defend and promote their left-wing agenda, chiefly a single-payer health-care proposal and higher taxes on the rich. What’s more is that his performance seemed more like the Sanders from 2016 — mad as hell and railing against greed — which took a quiet backseat during the first debates.

Loser: Marginal Moderates

Besides Warren and Sanders, the rest of the July 30 debate lineup was made of more centrist candidates polling much lower than the two stars on stage. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock all had their moments in front of the camera (Bullock even looked pretty good). But what little they may have gained in name recognition probably won’t be enough to sustain their campaigns for long, especially with former Vice President Joe Biden dominating so much of the party’s moderate vote.

Loser: Pete Buttigieg

The one person on stage in the July 30 debate who could have emerged to unite the progressive and moderate factions was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He didn’t do really that. Pete Buttigieg has one nice moment in which he said, “Let’s stand up the right policy.” However, it’s hard to see him make any substantial gains with any particular block of voters.

 

And for the second debate:

Winner: Joe Biden

In the July 31 debate, Biden didn’t lose, and that’s as good as a win when you’re leading the polls. He seemed sharper than the first debate, where he was roundly attacked by a slate of opponents gunning for him and his top spot. He didn’t have any major gaffes and commanded the stage well enough. Put simply, his supporters aren’t going anywhere yet.

Loser: Kamala Harris

Perhaps “loser” is too harsh or stark a term to describe the California senator’s performance. But compared with the ground she could have gained — as she did in the first debate going against Biden — she came up fairly empty. And with her being in the top tier of candidates, she was bruised by low-polling candidates, such as Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attacking her record as a prosecutor. Harris didn’t epically fall apart, but this could have been her moment to make a permanent jump upward, and she didn’t pull it off.

Winner: Jay Inslee

There are tons of seemingly random white guys vying for Democratic nomination, but Inslee’s campaign message isn’t “I’m a safe white guy in case the Biden campaign implodes,” as it is for the aforementioned Delaney, Ryan, or Bullock. Inslee’s mission is to get the issue of climate change as much attention as possible. He did so with strong, eloquent control of his speaking time. Of course, Inslee (almost certainly) isn’t going to become the party’s presidential pick, but he could pick up enough support to keep climate change on center stage even if he isn’t on it.