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Takeaways From the 3rd Democratic Debate

Biden emerged largely unscathed, analysts say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2019 12:21 AM CDT
Updated Sep 13, 2019 6:49 AM CDT
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Democratic presidential candidates talk Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, after a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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(Newser) – Ten Democratic candidates took part in a fiery debate at Texas Southern University in Houston on Thursday night—and analysts say having all the leading candidates on the same stage raised almost everybody's game. Frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders managed to hold their ground, while rivals including Beto O'Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar were praised for strong performances. Julian Castro, however, was criticized by some for his attacks on Biden. Castro appeared to make the 76-year-old's age an issue as they clashed on health care, saying "Did you forget what you said two minutes ago?" after Biden said people would not have to buy in to his plan. New York, however, reports that Castro was the one who was wrong. More:

  • Biden emerges unscathed. Biden, who repeatedly brought up his time serving under former President Obama, rambled at times but was more energetic and "steadier" than in his first two debates, according to the New York Times—and "none of the nine other candidates onstage appeared to significantly damage his candidacy." Kamala Harris, who memorably clashed with Biden on his record on racial issues during the first debate, did not lay into the former vice president or any of her other rivals, saving her attacks for President Trump.

  • Obama is back in favor. In earlier debates, some candidates tried to distance themselves from Obama-era policies, but there was a lot of love for the former president Thursday night, and not just from Biden, reports the Washington Post. "We all owe a huge debt to President Obama" on health care, though ObamaCare needs to be built on, Warren said, while Harris invoked his 2008 campaign slogan when calling for bolder action on the issue. "Instead of saying no we can't, let’s say yes we can," she said.
  • Big night for Beto. Beto O'Rourke was widely agreed to have had a good night, though it's not clear whether it will result in a bump in the polls. Other candidates praised him for his response to last month's mass shooting in El Paso, his hometown, and he spoke passionately in favor of gun control. "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," he said when asked about his mandatory gun buyback proposal.
  • Warren's peace. The senator acted like a frontrunner by being "a calm, commanding presence that chimed in only when addressed by the moderators," according to the Hill. She refrained from heavily criticizing other candidates and did not become a target herself.
  • Booker "pretty sharp." Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight says Cory Booker was "pretty sharp" during the debate, though he believes the senator should shift more to the center in case party elites decide Harris is flopping and Biden has "a lot of downside risk." "And maybe they could turn to Booker," he says. "But Klobuchar and O’Rourke also had good debates, and they’re plausible landing spots too." Fellow FiveThirtyEight analyst Nathaniel Rakich predicts that after his attacks on Biden, Castro is the most likely candidate to see their polling numbers move—but it's not clear which direction they'll move in.
  • Trajectory unchanged. Politico's reporters didn't see anything likely to shape up the Democratic contest. Biden remains the frontrunner, and "though he had a so-so performance, it’s good for Sanders that the debate didn’t turn into a one-on-one Biden vs. Warren showdown," says Holly Otterbein. Alex Thompson predicts that "fundraising and media attention will continue to shrink for candidates outside the top five to six."
(Read more Democratic debate stories.)

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