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Democratic debate analysis: Heated exchanges, including between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden get into a heated exchange over race on Night 2 of the Democratic debate. Eric Swalwell suggests Biden "pass the torch"; Pete Buttigieg is put on the defensive over a fatal police shooting in his town. And along the way, Times political reporters Mark Z. Barabak, Noah Bierman, Evan Halper, Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta, and Washington bureau chief David Lauter and columnist Doyle McManus offered live analysis and commentary. Here are seven takeaways from Night 2 of the Democratic debate.

Noah Bierman

Well colleagues, it's been great chatting. I guess I'll see you here tomorrow for round 3? Just kidding. That's the end of the first debate cycle.

Evan Halper

Not that I noticed, Noah, which seemed by design. Bernie rarely wavers. And Biden went into the debate determined not to complicate things with new policy rollouts, per his team. That seemed to set the tone for everyone else.

Noah Bierman

Were there any surprising policy developments tonight? Trump sent only one tweet, after all the candidates said they would provide universal healthcare to illegal immigrants.

Evan Halper

We'll see if Harris uses this momentum to keep throwing punches at Biden, which could damage him but has its own risks to her. Cory Booker had Biden in a corner last week on some of these issues, but decided to tap the brakes and things fizzled.

Mark Z. Barabak

Nah. Here's a shovel. Keep digging :wink:

Noah Bierman

Mark, while I ultimately disagree with you on Buttigieg, that strategy also helped Janet Reno win popularity as attorney general after the botched Waco raid. But she lost miserably to Jeb Bush when she ran for governor. I know, this is a rabbit hole. Dig me out...

Mark Z. Barabak

As for Biden, good enough was probably good enough. He's the frontrunner, and I can't imagine anything was done or said to change that.

Mark Z. Barabak

Also agree re Harris, who really needed a boost and will likely get one from her performance.

Mark Z. Barabak

I would disagree re Buttigieg. I think he had a standout moment when he owned the lack of black representation on his police force. It won't solve the tensions, but voters might find it refreshing to hear from someone who--Harry Truman-like--says the buck stops with him.

Evan Halper

I agree Harris was the biggest winner tonight. Biden and Bernie Sanders did fine. Not stellar, but fine.  None of the  candidates on the fringe, meanwhile, seemed to have the breakout moment they hoped for out of this.

Noah Bierman

In general, we saw a lot more focus on Trump tonight and more differences in personal style than philosophy than I expected.

Noah Bierman

I'll agree with you guys with a few exceptions. I thought Buttigieg struggled a bit. The problems at home look to be halting his progress as an unblemished fresh young candidate. And to a far lesser extent than Harris, I think Gillibrand may attract some curiosity from a few voters who are still shopping around.

Melanie Mason

Plus, Harris did not have to play defense at all on past positions or her resume. That's probably not going to be the case in future debates.

Melanie Mason

We always knew Harris had considerable political talents, but sometimes that hasn't translated into real momentum with the voters. Tonight, we saw those talents on full display -- a mix of policy and personal and a willingness to  assertively take on both Trump and Biden.

Doyle McManus

I'll go ahead and nominate winners and losers. Kamala Harris was the winner: impressive and effective in delivering her message across many issues. Pete Buttigieg did well, too. Joe Biden spent much of the evening on defense while trying not to sound defensive--but no significant gaffes. And Bernie Sanders delivered the same message he has been delivering for five years, which suggests that his level of support will persist but not grow.

Noah Bierman

So what did we learn tonight?

Noah Bierman

Mark, I'm guessing that's especially true for Yang and Williamson.

Mark Z. Barabak

The closing statements are essentially the boilerplate speeches each of them deliver at their campaign stops. That said, rote as they may seem, a lot of viewers are hearing them for the first time.

Melanie Mason

Sure enough, Harris ends on her "prosecute the case" against Trump line.

Noah Bierman

Yang, one of the biggest outsiders on stage, says his spot there is proof that democracy still works.

Noah Bierman

Hickenlooper just mentioned legal marijuana. Is that the first and only mention on either night? A bit of  a surprise it's taken so long.

Melanie Mason

Swalwell (age 38) clearly irked that Buttigieg (age 37) gets all the "milennial candidate" attention, keeps emphasizing generational change and his relative youth.

Doyle McManus

No. Fair point. Just saying this wasn't a reversal of position; he wasn't arguing for keeping the combat troops in. (Note: "combat troops." He advocated keeping some counterterrorism.)

Noah Bierman

Doyle, serious question: Do you think Biden will get credit for positions he pushed and lost?

Doyle McManus

To be fair, Biden argued for pulling them out more quickly when he was VP.

Noah Bierman

Biden said the U.S. should pull troops from Afghanistan, a reminder that they remained there for the entire Obama administration.

Noah Bierman

And on cue, Doyle, Biden says NATO is the most important alliance.

Doyle McManus

Biden's go-to moves, not surprisingly, are "I was Barack Obama's vice president" and "I passed a law like that years ago." The rest of this campaign will test whether Democratic voters value that kind of experience.

Noah Bierman

The courts often overturn them and future presidents can reverse them with a signature.

Noah Bierman

Harris is promising executive action on gun control if Congress fails to act. Candidates love to say that. But as Obama, Trump and other presidents have shown, it is very hard to make major or lasting change through executive action.

Melanie Mason

Harris flashing a big smile as she talks about her first priority. Body language is clearly of someone happy with how the night has gone.

Noah Bierman

Chuck Todd has resorted to begging for brevity.

Noah Bierman

Biden has a real record on climate change with Obama, the Paris agreement. Does he get credit for that?

Melanie Mason

I would note she said she would endorse "a Green New Deal" which seems to me to be a broader endorsement of a big-dollar climate/clean energy stimulus package. To be fair, the Green New Deal itself doesn't have a lot of specifics to it.

Noah Bierman

Hickenlooper is not mentioning the Green New Deal but seems to be attacking it as socialism.

Noah Bierman

She was asked to present her climate plan and veered off a lot. She endorsed Green New Deal and said she would return to the Paris agreement, but did not offer her own plan.

Doyle McManus

Harris re-endorsed the Green New Deal -- first time it has been mentioned on either night, right?

Melanie Mason

Harris, echoing Inslee last night, names Trump the greatest threat to the United States and lists off a litany of reasons why. I'm surprised she didn't end with her typical biggest applause line -- that she'll prosecute the case against him. I bet we'll hear it later.

Noah Bierman

I had forgotten Gillibrand was on stage.

Noah Bierman

Agreed Mark. And Biden on the defensive about his past may reinforce the Clinton comparisons.

Mark Z. Barabak

One of things buoying her campaign has been the prospect of her going toe-to-toe with Trump on the debate stage. Guessing many Democrats liking what they're seeing tonight.

Noah Bierman

Tonight's debate feels far more personal than last night's which felt more about philosophy.

Noah Bierman

Biden's response was aggressive. He looks like he is done apologizing. It will be interesting to see how that plays in the days and weeks ahead.

Mark Z. Barabak

A very strong performance.

Mark Z. Barabak

Kamala Harris seems to be reinvigorating her campaign tonight after sagging some following her strong launch.

David Lauter

Probably few would have predicted that Harris would be the first to take Biden on directly.

Doyle McManus

And this will be one of the video exchanges that endures. Harris has made it Harris vs Biden

Seema Mehta

Is he going to try to respond?

Melanie Mason

That split-screen between Biden and Harris is quite compelling.

Seema Mehta

Whoa, Harris directly confronting Biden about his remarks about working with segregationists and his efforts opposing bussing.

Seema Mehta

It's interesting that Hickenlooper and Swalwell chose to go after his response.

Melanie Mason

This is second time Swalwell has taken a swing at an onstage rival. Clearly the way he is jostling for attention.

Mark Z. Barabak

Wow. Buttigieg gives a straight and humbled answer. Asked why South Bend has only 6% black police force in city that is 26% African American. "Because I couldn't get it done."

Doyle McManus

Is it my imagination, or does Biden look a bit off his game tonight?

Doyle McManus

And it's too bad the trade question didn't go to Biden, who unlike others has never quote broken with the old consensus on trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership

Doyle McManus

Pete Buttigieg gives a smart answer on China: tariffs aren't the solution to a competitiveness race. Would a show of hands produce unanimity on that?

Noah Bierman

Yang takes a page from Trump in asserting that another country is laughing at us -- though Trump is not likely to use Russia as his example.

Mark Z. Barabak

Kamala Harris taking on Obama administration deportation policy takes on Biden in tone of more-sorrow-than-anger

Seema Mehta

This immigration question -- about whether people whose only crime is crossing the border illegally should be deported -- is what caused the fireworks between Castro and O'Rourke last night. Not seeing the same divisions tonight so far.

Evan Halper

Most of the candidates are trekking out to the Homestead facility this week, where thousands of  migrant children are held. One candidate not going: Biden. The facility was open during the Obama administration. But Biden says he will get out there eventually, just couldn't fit into his schedule this week.

Seema Mehta

Did Sanders just put up a hand to shush one of the women to his left?

Seema Mehta

Yes Noah. He did that with the question on healthcare for those in the country illegally as well, which is why Savannah Guthrie thought he wouldn't cover them.

Evan Halper

We are 45 minutes in and there has been minimal attacking of Biden. Candidates calculating, as Biden's team had hoped, that they don't want to waste their precious time to introduce themselves by tangling with him, thereby giving him more time and attention.

Noah Bierman

Did Biden just hold up one vacillating finger?

Mark Z. Barabak

Plenty of fodder tonight, Noah. Bernie Sanders conceded he would raise taxes on the middle-class. Promising a tax hike didn't work so well for Walter Mondale...

David Lauter

There's much more emphasis on Trump in tonight's debate than there was last night.

Doyle McManus

As they did tonight.

Melanie Mason

A smaller rhetorical note: Harris often on the trail uses female pronouns when referring to the next president (i.e. when the next president holds a pen in "her hand"). She doesn't dwell on it but her audience almost always applauds.

Melanie Mason

This is the second time Harris has said we need to discuss these issues in terms of "real people." It's a smart strategy that lets her get to more soaring rhetoric.

Noah Bierman

Trump, or someone holding his Twitter account, just noticed the raised hands: "All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!"

Seema Mehta

She's having a good night.

Noah Bierman

Sanders is getting the most time to discuss his ideas but Harris is getting the best chance to sell herself.

Doyle McManus

I'd argue that Harris had the best half-hour: crisp and vigorous.

David Lauter

His tangled syntax and occasional stumbles somewhat undercut that message, tho, Mark.

Mark Z. Barabak

Biden's measured, carefully modulated responses telegraph, "I'm the serious, sober, unflappable one here on stage."

Noah Bierman

Republicans will use those raised hands to argue that Democrats want to have open borders and give runaway benefits to illegal immigrants.

David Lauter

Harris point about high insurance deductibles is something that our colleague, Noam Levey, has written extensively about. The average size of deductibles has nearly quadrupled in the past 12 years. Read more about that here: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-health-insurance-medical-bills-20190502-story.html

Noah Bierman

This is another party moves left moment Seema.

Seema Mehta

All 10 candidates said their health plans would cover undocumented immigrants.

Doyle McManus

One lesson of both of these debates may be that pure Medicare for All, with no private insurance allowed, is still only a minority position in the Democratic Party.

Noah Bierman

Yes Mark, and Harris is telling anecdotes that a lot of people can relate to, rather than stories that affected her personally.

Seema Mehta

The moderators seem to have lost whatever control they had of the debate.

Mark Z. Barabak

Kamala Harris again playing role of keeping-it-real while others squabble. Comes across again, as the adult on stage.

David Lauter

The more moderate candidates have all learned that the safest ground on which to differ with Sanders on healthcare is to talk about giving families "choice."

David Lauter

The more moderate candidates have all learned that the safest ground on which to differ with Sanders on healthcare is to talk about giving families "choice."

Noah Bierman

Marianne Williamson blaming Democrats for superficial plans while citing "Make America Great Again" as a better strategy?

Seema Mehta

Nope.

Melanie Mason

Has Marianne Williamson spoken once?

Noah Bierman

Biden becomes a lot harder to attack when he reminds people of his painful personal story.

Melanie Mason

Harris just raised her hand saying she would abolish private health insurance, which she said in a CNN town hall earlier in the campaign. But in later televised town hall, she hedged a bit, saying she wanted to explore ways for unions to keep their negotiated health benefits.

Doyle McManus

Bernie Sanders just landed the first good soundbite: "The issue is not generational. The issue is who has the guts to take on Wall Street."

Melanie Mason

There was an obvious gimme for a candidate to step and be the adult in the room, and Kamala Harris just seized it.

Seema Mehta

Harris is giving Sanders the same look she gave Loretta Sanchez when she dabbed during the 2016 Senate race.

Noah Bierman

What is it with men and New York accents shouting over women?

Noah Bierman

Biden just using it to take more time and offer more plans for debt relief.

Mark Z. Barabak

Ouch--Swalwell notes he was 6 years old when Joe Biden came to the state party convention and called for passing of torch. Not terribly subtle. Biden just grins.

Seema Mehta

Swalwell the first to go after Biden directly and with a generational call to "pass the torch."

Melanie Mason

Yang's campaign slogan is "MATH," but that sure was a lot of numbers for a tv audience to digest.

Seema Mehta

Yang's focus on universal basic income strikes some as wacky, but the history of the idea goes back a ways and attracted support from people like Nixon and MLK.

Mark Z. Barabak

Buttigieg differs on college-debt forgiveness, one early separation among candidates.


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