The third Democratic debate took place in Houston last Thursday and, this time, only ten candidates qualified and took place on just one night. The top contenders were on stage, including the first showdown between former vice president and current frontrunner, Joe Biden and the rising Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Here are the top five takeaways from the debate:
1. Three-horse race
There remains a battle between three candidates: former vice president, Joe Biden; Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren; and Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. Warren and Sanders represent the more liberal progressive wing of the party while Biden is the standard-bearer for pragmatic centrism.
Other candidates looking to break into the upper echelon of contenders such as South Bend Mayor, Pete Buttigieg; California Senator, Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker all had quiet but steady nights. They’ll need something dramatic to boost their campaigns before the end of the year.
2. Obama and Healthcare
Once again, healthcare was the dominant topic during the debate. Democrats are in general agreement on the importance of expanding healthcare coverage but when it comes to how they should do this; the divisions are stark. The argument falls along ideological lines with progressives backing Medicare-for-all and moderate Democrats looking to expand Obamacare.
All the candidates on stage went out of their way to praise former President Obama in an effort to peel support away from Biden, who never missed an opportunity to remind voters that he was Obama’s vice president. This strategy has helped him stay out front in the polls. His challengers will try to present themselves as the true heirs to Obama’s legacy as they try to supplant Biden as Obama’s successor.
3. Going viral
The debate had a few big moments that will likely keep people talking.
- In his opening statement, Andrew Yang announced that his campaign would give away $1,000 a month to 10 random donors (this is a first in US politics and quite possibly illegal)
- Former congressman Beto O’Rourke gave an emotional and impassioned appeal for gun control following a mass shooting in his home town
- But the big talking point is the clash between former housing and urban development secretary Julian Castro and former vice president Joe Biden. Castro accused Biden of forgetting what he’d said about his healthcare plan in a testy exchange during the debate’s opening remarks on healthcare policy, essentially accusing the former vice president of amnesia. Attacking Biden has become a staple for candidates trying to gain traction and last night Castro didn’t hold back
4. What the internet thinks
Biden was the most tweeted about candidate. This is not surprising given his frontrunner status and that he spoke for the most number of minutes Thursday night. What might be surprising, is that Andrew Yang was the second most talked about candidate on Twitter. Except, it shouldn’t be. Yang is in the debate because of his strong online support. What began on Reddit and 4chan has metastasized into a concrete social media following. Winning on Twitter isn’t the same as winning votes in a primary. We’ll have to wait to see if Yang can turn online support into ground support in the primaries.
5. What’s next
The next debate takes place in Ohio, on October 15th (and possibly 16th) and we’re going to see all the same candidates next month, with potentially one new face –Billionaire Tom Steyer who recently met the qualification criteria.
One word that wasn’t mentioned Thursday night – impeachment. With the House Judiciary Committee taking the first steps on the road to an impeachment hearing, candidates won’t be able to duck the divisive issue forever. The Democrats want to make this campaign about policy issues like healthcare, but that bubble is about to burst.