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Analysis: Winners, Losers and Major Takeaways From the Third Democratic Debate


by Dustin Jayroe

Last night, a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates was narrowed down to a debate between the top 10 leaders. Candidates qualified for the debate, hosted by ABC and Univision, by having contributions from at least 130,000 individuals from at least 400 unique donors in 20 or more states, and must have reached 2 percent in at least four approved polls. 

The candidates who met these thresholds and participated in last night’s debate were: 

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey)
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend)
  • Former Secretary Julián Castro (Housing and Urban Development)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (California)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Coming in, the debate was met with a lot of anticipation. Though we have seen a couple of the front runners on the same stage in previous debates, this was the first time in this cycle that the “big three” of Biden, Sanders and Warren were all present, billed to go toe-to-toe with one another, potentially cementing or squandering their leads over the rest of the field. What we got was probably not as theatrical as it was advertised, but that is probably true of all presidential debates in general, regardless of party. 


The bottom/middle of the field, names that many may have forgotten between the last round of debates to now since the top three candidates dominate so much of the in-between news coverage. 

Amy Klobuchar has not run one of the most exciting campaigns thus far, especially in comparison to her would-be opponent, Donald Trump. But she is still around, and last night was a pretty good night for her – probably the best work she has put in. She may not have the best promises or exhibit the most charisma, but her moderate nature does lend itself to ears looking for ideas that are deemed by the mainstream as achievable in the short term, and she appeared to be much more comfortable and human last night. 

Beto O’Rourke has had a pretty tumultuous political journey; he overperformed in a highly publicized Texas senate race against Ted Cruz (despite losing) and became a bit of a political “darling” for a while, then he announced his candidacy for President and, for the most part, has largely fallen out of favor since then. But last night put him back on the map. He was able to separate his voice from the others on guns, exclaiming vehemently, “hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15,” on his proposed mandatory buyback policy. This hardline stance will obviously not find much support from the far- or middle-right and make him even more of a lightning rod, but for the left, it is a high flag plunged deep into the sand – an elevation that has been hard for O’Rourke to come by with some of his other, more moderate stances. 

Cory Booker has been as steady as they come through three rounds of debates, and should probably be the favorite of the lower-tiered candidates, should a dark horse emerge and upset the current favorites. His delivery is commanding and engaging, which is a quality that adds excitability to his messaging, without him taking extremely bold and far-out stances. He is not necessarily a moderate, but he can appeal to them; not as far left as some of his colleagues, but he can reach them. His emotional drumbeats of love over hate may be a little hokey for some, but last night was his best night, and he is a solid candidate from a strategy perspective. 

Speaking of steadiness, Elizabeth Warren could probably write a book on the subject. Through three debates, she has remained in her lane and avoided attacks from her peers and the tit-for-tats that have plagued the other two frontrunners, Biden and Sanders. Anything that comes out of her mouth is not a surprise to anyone, critics or supporters alike. She has not overtaken Biden in the national polls yet, but the possibility is certainly on the horizon, and she probably has a better chance to reign in the support of establishment Democrats than Sanders. 


Joe Biden is getting billed as one of the winners of this debate by many analysts, but that is really not the case, overall. He certainly put in his strongest performance of the campaign during the first half-hour or so which, for the most part, usually attracts the most viewers. But, the latter portion was littered with stumbles and misstatements, things that (unfortunately for the Biden campaign) he has not been a stranger to, throughout his political career. He had some really good moments for his electability argument, no question. Like calling an executive order to ban assault weapons unconstitutional, and his quip to Sanders on healthcare, “this is America” (depending on where you stand, this probably went either way for you). But with a lot of his answers and gaffes, Biden can come across as apathetic a little sloppy. 

Julian Castro had a very eventful night, with a strategy that seemed to be a response to some of the traction he gained by going after O’Rourke and Buttigieg in the previous debates. But while both of those moments may have given him an appearance of strength, multiplying that into a number of attacks, including one that seemed to be a critique of Biden’s age and mental capacity, which was actually a misunderstanding of Biden’s policy on Castro’s part. Castro did have some very good moments on the night by most accounts, but some of his unnecessary jabs are also making him a target of the “bully” label. 

Best Moment

“My father grew up on a peanut farm in Asia with no floor. And now his son is running for president. That is the immigration story that we have to be able share with the American people.” – Andrew Yang 

No matter what side of the aisle one identifies with, Yang’s account describes the American dream in one of the most perfect ways imaginable. 

READ MORE: Takeaways from the Second Democratic Debate

READ MORE: Takeaways from the First Democratic Debate

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