With the conclusion of the third Democratic debate, the top candidates vying to take on Donald Trump in 2020 have wrapped up yet another chance to stand out in a crowded field just months before voters will begin to cast their votes. And, true to a night of televised prime time debate, they sparred in dramatic fashion, with Joe Biden defending his decades of experience in Washington, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders hoping to stand out with bold new visions for the country, and the others on stage hoping for a breakout moment.
For Mr Biden, the front-runner who has been dogged throughout the campaigns with attacks over his perceived gaffes and past support of policies that have since been seen as out-of-date, the night was a strong performance. While facing down heated attacks from fellow candidates — including former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro — the former vice president managed to remain firmly on both feet, defending his record and promising a pragmatic adherence to Barack Obama's legacy on healthcare and other issues.
"I think we should have a debate on heath care. I think — I know the senator says she's for Bernie. Well, I'm for Barack. I think Obamacare worked," Mr Biden said, highlighting the differences in opinion on healthcare between himself and Ms Warren, while reminding the audience once again that he was the vice president to a man who remains a revered figure in the Democratic Party.
Ms Warren, who has surged in polls since her quiet entrance at the turn of the year, also notched a memorable night, in which she brought her plans for big structural change to American voters, but largely kept above the fray of attacks that led some to complain that Americans are tuning out of Washington due to the vitriol of modern American politics. Ms Warren warned of corruption in the US political system, and promised that she would take on that money driven system, and implement policies ranging from Medicare for All to relief for student debt loans for the vast majority of Americans.
Responding to Mr Biden's repeated claims that Medicare for All is a step too far, and that many Americans would reject the idea because they prefer their current healthcare plan, Ms Warren said: "We all owe a huge debt (to Obama). I've never actually met anybody who likes their insurance company. I've met people who like their doctor...The only difference here is where to send the bill."
For those candidates attempting fo find a breakout moment, it was the two Texans in the race who may have secured those bragging rights. Former congressman Beto O'Rourke drew some of the biggest applause of the night when he promised to take on the National Rifle Association and implement mandatory buybacks for assault-style rifles, a policy he has grown increasingly passionate about since the mass shooting in his home town of El Paso last month.
"Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15s," Mr O'Rourke said, taking one of the strongest lines on gun buybacks in the field.
Mr Castro, the other Texan, also had a memorable night, attacking Mr Biden for his record, and claiming that he is the one who is truly carrying Mr Obama's legacy forward.
"I'm fulfilling Obama's legacy, and you're not," Mr Castro, who frequently attacked Mr Biden throughout the night, said.
For Mr Sanders and Kamala Harris, the pair delivered strong performances, though perhaps ones that did not stand out compared to past debates.
Ms Harris had a memorable moment early on in the debate, when she spoke directly to Mr Trump in her opening remarks, and explained the dangers of his presidency.
"And now you can go back to watching Fox News," she said.
Mr Sanders defended his democratic socialist views, and punched back when Joe Biden suggested to him that "This is America", as he compared the healthcare systems in the two countries.
"Yeah, but Americans don't want to pay twice as much as other countries," Mr Sanders shot back. "And (other countries) guarantee health care to all people ... What people want is cost-effective health care."
For the remaining candidates, the crowded field provided little opportunity to stand out, especially in comparison to the heavyweights of the night.
Businessman Andrew Yang made a splash by announcing his campaign's plan to give $1,000 a month to 12 families via a raffle, in an attempt to highlight his plan for universal basic income that he hopes will offset the damages of automation.
Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar doubled down on her pragmatic approach to leadership, and suggested that Medicare for All would cost too much, and lead to many people losing their insurance (a claim that was quickly refuted).
New Jersey senator Cory Booker continued to push an optimistic message, even has he sought to highlight the struggles of minority communities across the US.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, also delivered what has become a somewhat regular debate performance for him, and called on greater American leadership abroad.
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