In years to come, Thursday night's Democratic debate in Los Angeles might be most remembered for having taken place so soon after President Trump's impeachment—and for the number of mentions of "wine caves." The first half of the debate was largely good-natured, and candidates were in agreement about impeachment, but fireworks began in the second half when Elizabeth Warren clashed with Pete Buttigieg over fundraising from wealthy donors. With only seven candidates on stage at Loyola Marymount University, the hopefuls had more speaking time and the discussion of issues including foreign policy was more substantive. Some takeaways:
- Biden's best debate. Many pundits say this was Biden's best debate performance so far—although he remained the frontrunner after previous so-so performances. "It wasn’t flawless, but he kept things on the rails, had flashes of good humor and was deft with tough moments he could see approaching, including about his age," writes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post. Biden also wasn't a major target for other candidates.
- "Billionaires in wine caves." The first fireworks came when Elizabeth Warren slammed Pete Buttigieg for holding a big-dollar fundraiser in a "wine cave full of crystals" at a Napa Valley winery, the AP reports. "Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," she said. Buttigieg countered that he was by far the least wealthy candidate on stage, but pundits believe the exchange may have hurt the South Bend mayor, who came under attack more than any other candidate.
- Mixed reviews for Buttigieg. Some analysts have Buttigieg in the losers' column, some in the winners'—and Chris Cillizza at CNN has him in both. After the second-half pile-on, he "showed in this debate he could take incoming and dish it out too," Cillizza writes, but he also "came across as overly rehearsed" and "seemed annoyed at attacks from Klobuchar on his limited experience as mayor and his past failure to win races he ran in."
- Breakout moment? Amy Klobuchar had a lot more speaking time than in previous debates, and the "confident and relaxed" senator from Minnesota "made the most of it, engaging in substantive discussions about political experience with Mr. Buttigieg and health care policy with Mr. Sanders," writes Reid Epstein and Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times. Andrew Yang had the least amount of speaking time, but his "plain-spoken answers ... cut through on a stage filled with political hemming, hawing, and hedging," they write.
- "Everyone did well." Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight thought "everyone did well"—and even Tom Steyer was "more memorable than he's been in the past." Bernie Sanders, he writes, "didn't disappoint" and had "some genuinely charming, funny moments throughout the debate," though there was a "bad moment" when he "balked at answering a question on race." Niall Stanage at the Hill writes that "some candidates fared less well than others—Warren has been more effective on other occasions—but no one had a truly bad night nor created a moment of viral doom."
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