California Senator Kamala Harris took full advantage of the first debates between the nominees, changing the course of the presidential conversation within the Democratic fold.
On June 26 and 27, no fewer than 20 US Democratic presidential candidates sparred with each other in two debates, thanks to a crowded field of nominees vying to challenge President Donald Trump. Each night hosted 10 candidates, with issues in discussion ranging from illegal immigration to universal insurance.
Here are some key takeaways from the first two debates.
- Elizabeth Warren stood out on the first night. The highest-polling Democratic candidate, she was able to explain her outlook and proposed policies in clear detail. She discussed the economic inequality in the US, and said a "thinner and thinner slice" of the country was benefitting from its economic policies. Warren also criticised the system, calling for “structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country”.
- Current US President Donald Trump was hardly mentioned. The candidates chose to discuss their own policies and ideas rather than attack the sitting president, who is running a re-election campaign of his own. While Trump’s policies are far removed from any of the Democratic candidates, who tended to veer further left than before, the fact that he was not a debate issue left question marks in the minds of viewers who did not get an answer as to why they should support a Democratic candidate instead of Trump.
- California Senator Kamala Harris distinguished herself from other candidates on the second night, as she criticised former vice president Joe Biden about his record on race, even while noting that she doesn’t believe he’s racist. Harris highlighted Biden's controversial position in the 1970s when he had opposed busing black students to school districts with mostly white students. Harris said it was “hurtful” and she as a child was also bused to school, which became a formative experience for her.
- Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the second night of the debates repeated his promises from the last presidential election, talking about the widening wealth gap and Medicare-for-all. “We need a political revolution,” he said. One of the pillars for his proposition was healthcare. “People don’t like their private insurance companies, they like their doctors and hospitals. Under our plan, people go to any doctor they want, any hospital they want,” he said.
- Former governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper warned the Democratic Party against coming across as socialists and turning off Trump supporters who may be leaning towards voting for a Democratic president. “The bottom line is, if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists,” he said. He later added: “If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to reelect the worst president in American history.”
- Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey switched to Spanish as he discussed the migration crisis at the Mexican border (as did former housing and urban development secretary Julian Castro and former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas). “The situation now is unacceptable,” Booker said, adding “This president has attacked, he has demonised immigrants. I am going to change this.” Castro too spoke on migration and the dire conditions facing those seeking asylum in the US. Castro’s favorability rating went up following the debate.