Miami Herald Editorial Board: Who made the case in the first Democratic debate?

Democratic candidates weigh in on biggest geopolitical threat facing the U.S.

The candidates weigh in on biggest geopolitical threat facing the United States during the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on June 26, 2019.
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The candidates weigh in on biggest geopolitical threat facing the United States during the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on June 26, 2019.

With 10 candidates and two hours to make a good impression, the crowded first night of Democratic presidential debates proved to be a challenge, mainly for moderators, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Jose Diaz-Balart, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd, who found themselves herding cats, plus dealing with an embarrassing audio technical glitch.

The short answers they demanded gave everyone a chance to get in at least one defining mini speech. We don’t think anyone really stood out Wednesday night, but it’s awfully early in the race.

The big names on stage, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke, were competent, although Warren seemed to fade and the usually energetic O’Rourke was pretty low key.

The underdogs were scrappy. Julián Castro and Bill de Blasio managed to grab extra time with outbursts.

Of local note, several of the candidates brought out their Spanish, halting as it might have been. And there were mentions during the debate of the Parkland school massacre, the Homestead unaccompanied childrens detention center and the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

Here’s the Miami Herald Editorial Board’s assessment of how the 10 candidate performed:

*Which candidate had the best grasp of the issues?

Well, they all grasped the issues that they wanted to grasp. In other words, candidates spent time answering the questions they wanted to, not necessarily what moderators asked. Happens.

Elizabeth Warren, an impressive wonk, never answered a question on whether there was a federal role in controlling access to guns. Most of them didn’t. Why the reluctance? With Parkland still looming large in this state, why the tiptoeing?

Even the responses to climate-change questions likely left South Floridians, destined to be underwater without strong government action, wanting.

Beto O’Rourke, who electrified Texans and almost toppled Sen. Ted Cruz, was more vague when asked to take stands on the more difficult national and international policy.

Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker and Julián Castro made their points well, each making sure voters give them a second look. Bottom line, all of the candidates are elected officials or former elected officials. None of them are dummies, not by a long shot.

*Who did best at conveying who they are and what they stand for?

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was best as conveying her platform.

A moderator joked that Warren has “a plan” for just about everything. That’s good.

And viewers heard many of them but they already knew of her liberal-minded campaign promises: Medicare for all, breaking up giant tech companies, addressing climate change. They already know she is a bit of a Bernie Sanders. We know what she stands for.

Warren didn’t move the needle much, but no one else did either Wednesday night.

Another candidate that made headway breaking out of the pack was Julián Castro, who showed a command of immigration law and appeared forceful in calling on the other candidate to back his idea to repeal Section 1325 of the immigration code, which deals with illegal entry into the U.S.

Cory Booker also managed to attract attention with his earnest answers. But no one hit a home run.

*At this juncture, who had the most polished presidential demeanor?

This is an easy one. The current occupant of the White House has set the bar for presidential demeanor so low — subterranean, really — that any of the 10 candidates on stage Wednesday night would be an improvement.

In fact, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that the second batch of candidates on stage tomorrow likely will exhibit the same mature bearing.

And if they exhibit bad behavior, it likely won’t be Trump bad.

It took about 20 minutes for candidates to break from the polite, but stiff, question-and-answer format.

That’s when things picked up.

Bill de Blasio interrupted O’Rourke, challenging him on healthcare solutions. Suddenly, game on!

Candidates overtalking candidates. But disagreements didn’t deteriorate into insults and personal acrimony, at least by halftime.

Sure, the candidates were on their first-date best behavior. However, it was refreshing to see, for the most part, respect and civility among them.

*Who showed they might have the mettle to debate President Trump?

Who can go up against Trump? This one might be too hard to gauge right now.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Jay Inslee, like O’Rourke, the tallest candidates, were both confident and assured. They had no qualms about talking over fellow candidates.

Their booming voices allowed them to hold the stage longer than usual. Inslee has already stood up to President Trump politically on several occasions and said on stage Trump doesn’t intimidate him.

But Inslee is an outside candidate right now. Booker also has potential.

He is assured in his answers and believes that he can bring change in America. Castro is close behind. And Warren likely would have the quick, stinging comeback.

It’s hard to imagine any other candidate on the stage not having a difficult time debating President Trump.

Thursday is the second presidential debate. We’ll do this again.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the state Massaechussets Sen. Elizabeth Warren represents in the Senate. We regret the error.