Editorials

Miami Herald Editorial Board: On final night of debates, who stood out? Harris, Biden, Sanders?

Democratic presidential candidates attend the start of the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidates attend the start of the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Thursday, June 27, 2019. adiaz@miamiherald.com




On its final night, again with 10 candidates and two hours for them to make a good impression, the equally crowded Democratic presidential debates highlighted the party’s ideological and generational fractures.

Many considered Thursday night’s debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami the main event as perceived moderate front-runner Joe Biden and strong progressive contender Bernie Sanders, both party veterans, were facing each other, but also going up against younger candidates who have found some traction with voters, among them the night’s best performer Kamala Harris. Others younger candidates were Pete Buttigieg, who came in a strong second and Eric Swalwell, who tried to paint Biden and Sanders as grandpas,

But Biden and Sanders held their own during the night, even though they did not have stand out monents. But both managed to successfully ward off attacks from other candidates. Nothing stuck.

Here’s the Miami Herald Editorial Board’s assessment of the second-night debates:





Who had the best command of the issues?

Yes, they are fighting for supremacy in a supercrowded field. But unlike the first set of candidates on Wednesday, who went after each other, Thursday night’s crew made clear that President Trump — his immigration policies, his racism, his gunning for Obamacare, his you-name-it — was the real enemy.

Candidates, all elected officials, except two, had facts — their facts — well in hand. They agreed on the challenges, diverged on solutions. Most weren’t on board Sanders’ Medicare for All, some preferring a combination of public and private health insurance.

The candidates take climate change seriously, along with enhancing the quality of life for working-and middle-class Americans. All enduring Democratic talking points.

They concurred that putting migrant children in cages is a nonstarter and had credible solutions to our short- and long-term immigration woes.

Harris is like Trump in one way: She is a big believer in issuing executive orders, pledging to use them to push through gun reform.

It’s a shame that NBC’s sound engineers didn’t have a similar grasp of the audio problems in the debate hall. It was horrendous and did both the candidates and the audience a terrible disservice



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

The heavyweight candidates clearly knew the stakes were high. They sparred, they counterpunched, they all talked at once. And still the debate was healthy, not hostile, air-clearing, not befuddling.

Until Kamala Harris came for Joe Biden on his previous stance on race.

Eric Swalwell threw the first punch: He was 6 when a respected politician came to his class and stressed the need to pass the torch to a new generation. The politician was Joe Biden. Swalwell is now 38. Ouch!

Still, as with Wednesday’s debates, all of the candidates presented a reassuring demeanor.

Pete Buttigieg didn’t have to raise his voice above the others to make himself heard. He commanded attention with a softer tone and by speaking with authority.

Harris was sharp and passionate, so was Williamson, one of two nonpoliticians on stage. Of note, Andrew Yang may have made history by beign the first presidential candidate not to wear a tie durign a televised debate.



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



Kamala Harris owned the stage and the night. She was sharp, commanding, spunky, touching and she called out the perceived top candidate Joe Biden on two serious race issues: His lack of support for school busing that would desegregate schools decades ago and also for his recent kind words to a fellow congressman, a well-known racist.

Harris called Biden out in front of America. He seemed taken aback and grew more defensive and louder, but it wasn’t a good look. Trump would tap into that anger to his benefit.

Harris showed Thursday night that she is a serious candidate. The audience seemed to fall in love with her more as the night went on.

Even though the moderators tighten their reign on the candidates this night, with more questions and by cutting candidates off when they went too long, Harris had several stand-out moments. Her best: she reprimanded her unruly fellow candidates: “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table,” Harris said to raucous cheers and applause.

As she rose, other candidates faded or performed as expected. Sanders was Sanders. In both debates, Harris showed she has the most developed muscle to go toe-to-toe with President Trump in televised presidential debates.

Who made the top 10 list following both debates?

So it’s over. The first Democratic presidential debates in Miami are in the books.

The first night appeared to be more energetic with several unexpected candidates like Julián Castro and Bill de Blasio rising in recognition, while the top name, Elizabeth Warren, coasted for the most part, but did no harm.

The second night had a different rhythm. Contributing to the mood was a difficult sound system in the hall that made it hard to hear, even for some candidates. The moderating seemed less polished and artful.

So over the two nights, who made the 10 top list? In alphabetical order, here’s our call:

Wednesday night: Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday night: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

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