Bernie Sanders needed a clear victory in Sunday night's debate to regain momentum in the race for the Democratic nomination. Most analysts say he didn't get one, despite some strong moments in his first head-to-head debate with Joe Biden. In a live audience-free debate overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis, the former vice president made headlines by committing himself to choosing a woman as his running mate. The candidates bumped elbows instead of shaking hands and spoke from podiums six feet apart. Some takeaways:
- "The 11th time was the charm." Politico analysts including Mark Caputo say Biden was the winner. Caputo says Biden "looked like a completely different candidate onstage" than in the previous 10 debates. "Biden benefited from low expectations heading into the night, but he over-performed by actually excelling in the debate, where he was relaxed, cogent, and looked like what he is: the clear frontrunner in the Democratic race for president," he writes.
- A "clinical evisceration" from Sanders. New York Times analysts say Sanders won "a victory on substance" after comparing his record with Biden's. He "delivered a clinical evisceration of Mr. Biden’s record from a progressive perspective, picking apart past Biden votes and statements on economic issues, the Iraq war, immigration and LGBTQ rights," they write—but with Sanders behind in the delegate count and on course to lose in all four states voting Tuesday, it is "almost certainly too late to matter."
- Sanders' best moment. In what Dylan Matthews at Vox considers Sanders' best moment in "an otherwise rough debate," he "got in one clean hit against Joe Biden—Biden has, indeed, supported efforts to limit Social Security benefits, and he spent much of the debate scrambling to defend his record," Matthews writes. The exchange showed that Social Security "has become untouchable," he writes.
- The live audience wasn't missed. There was no live audience because of the global pandemic, but many commentators say "There is really no reason for audience reactions to color who has good answers and who doesn’t," writes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post. "It encourages playing to the crowd rather than having substantive debates. Sunday night’s debate may not have been the best we’ve ever seen, but it was certainly better thanks to the lack of cheering and booing."
- Biden woos progressives. Biden announced before the debate that he is adopting Sanders' position of offering free public university tuition for students from families that make less than $125,000 year. In another olive branch to progressives, he promised to campaign for Sanders if he becomes the nominee. "Sanders used much of Sunday night’s debate to question Biden’s past positions and to make the case that the former vice president has to be a more forward-thinking liberal champion if he’s to win over young people and the progressive left," notes Jonathan Easley at the Hill.
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