Twelve Democratic candidates took to the debate stage in Westerville, Ohio on October 15 in hopes to make a statement, and to garner the support of voters to get them through to the next round of debates in November. To be eligible for this debate, all candidates needed to hit at least two percent in four DNC-approved polls and receive at least 130,000 unique donations by October 1. All ten candidates from the previous debate in Houston made it through. However, this time there was the addition of billionaire Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, who had been a part of the August debates but failed to qualify for the September ones. The debate was co-hosted by CNN and the New York Times with Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and Marc Lacey moderating.
Due to the high volume of candidates on the stage, there was no opening statement, and the moderators jumped right into questions instead. Almost immediately, we got a glimpse of who the main targets for the night were. It was evident that all opponents saw Elizabeth Warren as the threat on the stage that night instead of Joe Biden. Warren, for the first time, saw herself fending off many claims from a majority of her opponents. While this generally is a good sign for her, there were moments during the debate where she used a lot of circular reasoning, which lowered her overall presentation. On the other end of the spectrum, we were able to see the candidates who had breakout performances.
Pete Buttigeg had an outstanding night, stating that he was “running to be a president who will turn the page and unify a dangerously polarized country.” He came for Warren’s Medicare for All plan from the start, and countered Gabbard’s views on Syria. Later on, he disputed Beto O’Rourke on gun control. Overall he had clear answers that got right to the point and left an impression. Other winners for the night were Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders. While Klobuchar made herself better known this debate, there is a low chance of her gaining enough support to keep that momentum going. As for Bernie, most candidates seemed to avoid altercations with him as he had just come back from his heart attack.
Kamala Harris got her big moment when she brought up women’s reproductive rights, or the lack thereof in the last debates, stating that it was “outrageous” that a topic such as this would remain taboo within the debates. Cory Booker of New Jersey was quick to jump in adding his support. “God bless Kamala,” he said. “But you know what? Women should not be the only ones taking up this cause and this fight. It’s not just because women are our daughters and our friends and our wives. It’s because women are people.” And while the moderators did eventually circle around to women’s reproductive rights, that same energy that had been so vivacious in the beginning of debate had simmered down.
The questions asked throughout the night became quite the talking points after the debate. During the debate, many of the questions seemed to circle back to the topic of healthcare. While not necessarily a bad thing, the topic became exhausted very quickly. Another problem that arose with many, was the last question which was asked by moderator Anderson Cooper. “Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former president George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship saying, ‘we’re all different and I think we have forgotten that that’s ok that we’re all different.’ So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us, what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs?” While this question had a significant purpose of trying to include many perspectives to create a sense of unity, the wording and substance of the question was troubling to viewers. Not only was it an ambiguous question, but it also took up time that could have been spent on climate change or police brutality, topics that were barely mentioned. In fact police brutality wasn’t addressed until Julian Castro powerfully stated that “police violence is also gun violence,” referencing the previous gun control question. The fact that such statements like this were only given a tiny fraction of time, compared to that of Ellen DeGeneres, was a main criticism of the night.
Overall, the October debates did not tell anything we didn’t already know. While there were some memorable moments from individual candidates, like when Bernie Sanders took the time to thank everyone for supporting him after his heart attack, or when Buttigeg schooled O’Rourke about courage, there is still a lot more we need to learn about each candidate before a decision is to be made.