Democratic debate: Who won and who lost at fifth debate in Georgia

Candidates more subdued than in previous debates, and tackled issues ranging from voting rights to climate change and health care

Clark Mindock
New York
Thursday 21 November 2019 05:02
Democratic debate: 'We have to establish the principle no one is above the law', says Elizabeth Warren

Fresh on the heels of damning testimony in Washington as a part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, the top Democratic presidential contenders convened in Georgia for their fifth official debate.

On the stage were 10 candidates, ranging from liberal favourites like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to more centrist front-runners like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

Over two hours, the ten candidates responded to questions including that impeachment inquiry, the dangers of climate change, the US-China relationship, and the question of how the country may be brought together in a time of incredible polarisation.

The event was much more subdued compared to the past four debates, with few personal attacks between the candidates.

And so, after a night with MSNBC and the Washington Post leading the questioning, here is who stood out and who missed the mark.

The Winners:

Pete Buttigieg — Mr Buttigieg came into the Wednesday night debate as a front-runner for the first time, after topping the field in some polls in Iowa. Mr Buttigieg, an Afghanistan War veteran and the youngest candidate, kept a level head and appealed to the more pragmatic side of the Democratic electorate including in his appeal for what he calls “Medicare for All who want it”, and for ensuring everyone pay their fair share in the American system. Perhaps a sign that other candidates don’t see him as a major threat, though, is the fact that he received few direct attacks on the stage.

Elizabeth Warren — The liberal senator from Massachusetts is among the front-runners, and she did not fail to deliver on that expectation. Ms Warren, during the last debate, was considered to be out in front of the pack, and received plenty of attacks with questions on how she’d pay for her Medicare for All plan without raising middle class taxes. Since then, she released a plan to pay that. With that knotty issue (mostly) behind her, and a few more peers alongside her as front-runners, Ms Warren was able to focus on her message of anti-corruption (with that impeachment inquiry as a nice backdrop), and her plans to make government work for regular Americans by demanding a tax on the wealthy.

Bernie Sanders — Mr Sanders is nothing if not consistent, and his Democratic-Socialist views really stood out on the stage in Atlanta. He did not get thrown off by the impeachment inquiry, but used it as a tool to call for the major reforms he has long advocated for — from addressing climate change, to passing Medicare fo All, to simply forcing millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.

The Losers:

Tom Steyer — The billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist is the newest candidate to the race (at least on the stage Wednesday night), and he has a lot to show voters that he just didn’t seem to nail. Among other things, Mr Steyer lacks government experience (like Andrew Yang, to be fair), and so a challenge he faces is proving he knows what it takes. But, even when advocating for climate change action — one of his signature issues — he found himself vulnerable to an attack from Mr Biden who claimed a big portion of the billionaire’s wealth was made by relying on coal.

Andrew Yang — The entrepreneur didn’t have a bad night per se, but he did fail to stand out. This has been a running problem or Mr Yang (who, notably, inspires a great affection from his followers online and in the field), where he seems to have a hard time jousting with the other candidates on stage. On the bright side, he did seem a bit more at ease than in previous debates.

Joe Biden — He was holding up so well, but then took a strong hit from Cory Booker just at the end on his recent comments that he doesn’t want to legalise marijuana (“I thought you were high when you said it,” Mr Booker quipped) and stumbled on the issue of social justice by saying that he has the support of the only black woman elected to the US Senate (with Kamala Harris standing right there). Mr Biden clarified he meant the first black woman elected, but the damage was done.

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