Ten Democratic candidates faced off in the second night of the first presidential debate Thursday evening. The four highest-polling candidates on stage dominated discussion, while the other six fought for air time.
Former vice president Joe Biden — who faced the most attacks from fellow candidates — walked away with the highest speaking time. Biden (13.6 minutes), the top-polling candidate coming into the debate, spoke more than four times as long as former tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang (3 minutes). Last night, the difference between the candidates with the most and least speaking time was half as big (10.9 minutes for Sen. Cory Booker vs. five minutes for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee).
Total minutes spoken
Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) finished the night with the second highest speaking time — in part because of a dramatic back-and-forth with Biden regarding his record on civil rights. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) finished third in minutes spoken.
In the second debate, the candidates in the middle of the stage spoke for significantly longer than those on night one.
How each candidate stood out Thursday night
Biden, a former vice president and senator from Delaware, has held a wide lead in the polls since entering the race. Faced with an increasingly young and liberal party base, he has battled questions about his record on civil rights, as well as a 1994 crime bill he wrote, but has been buoyed by near-universal name recognition.
On Thursday, he cast himself as the candidate able to win over working-class Americans and repeatedly attacked President Trump. He also said he has accomplished many things other candidates have only theorized about.
“Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation” by awarding tax breaks to the wealthiest, he said.
Biden scuffled with Sen. Kamala D. Harris over his comments about his civil relationship with segregationist senators and about his record on busing. After she levied criticism, he defended his record on race.
“If we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that,” he said.
Harris, a senator from California and the only woman of black and Indian descent onstage Thursday, has struggled to improve on the strong start to her campaign.
She has called for the impeachment of Trump in the wake of the Mueller report but has been criticized for not answering difficult questions about controversial elements of her record as a prosecutor and California attorney general.
On Thursday, she challenged Biden on his statements about his past, working with segregationist senators. “I do not believe you are a racist,” she said, adding that, as a second-grader, she helped integrate a school in Berkeley, Calif. “But it was personal and actually very hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two senators who built their careers on segregation of race.”
She was applauded for talking about how she would use the presidential bully pulpit: “I will ensure that this microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of our country.”
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, has told supporters that the same “too radical” ideas he has been trumpeting for years have been co-opted by his competitors. He has been drawing a distinct line between himself and Biden, who knocked Sanders from the top of early polls.
Onstage with several candidates who are decades younger than him, he also is trying to make the argument that a septuagenarian should be the face of revolutionary change in Washington. He talked about that revolution when asked how he would get his health-care plan passed.
“We’ll do it the way real change has always taken place, whether it was the labor movement, the women’s rights movement or the civil rights movement,” he said. “When tens of millions of people are prepared to tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their days are gone, that health care is a human right.”
If elected, Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., would be the first openly gay and youngest president in U.S. history. The Navy veteran raised $7 million in the first quarter of the year but entered the second night of the first Democratic debate after facing his campaign’s first significant backlash: the fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city.
Asked on Thursday why he has not ensured a more diverse police force in South Bend, he conceded: “I couldn’t get it done.” He said his actions “didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact.”
He also attacked Trump’s policy of separating parents and children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying: “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it. And for a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families ... that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
Bennet, a senator from Colorado, has cast himself as the “pragmatic idealist” in a crowded field of ideologically varied voices.
He has called for greater fiscal responsibility, rejected Medicare-for-all and spoke about building “a new era of American opportunity.”
On immigration, he said his stance is personal. Touching on the issue of children separated at the border, he said: “When I see these kids at the border, I see my mom, because I know she sees herself. She was separated from her parents for years during the Holocaust in Poland.”
Gillibrand, a senator from New York, has struggled to make a large dent in polls. A long-standing and vocal advocate for women, she has made reproductive rights and sexual assault awareness a cornerstone of her campaign.
On Thursday, she stayed on that message: “It is mind boggling to me that we are debating this, on this stage in 2019 among Democrats, whether women should have access to reproductive rights. I think we have to stop playing defense and start playing offense.”
Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado and former mayor of Denver, took the stage alongside some of the most popular candidates in the race. Hickenlooper is working to increase his name recognition a day after debate security guards mistook him for a reporter.
On the campaign trail, he has touted his executive experience and cast himself as a pragmatic moderate who can overcome partisan division and nudge Washington to the left.
On Thursday, he said Democrats have to “define that we’re not socialists” or risk being branded by Republicans, doubling down on statements about democratic socialism that got him booed at the California Democratic convention. Later, answering a question about climate change, he warned that “socialism is not the solution.”
“We can’t promise every American a government job,” he said, adding, “You can’t expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million individuals, many who have said they don’t want to give it up.”
Williamson, the author of more than a dozen self-help books and a longtime spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, is trying to convince people that a woman who has never worked in government or held political office should be taken seriously in a sprawling field.
She says the spiritual awakening she has been touting to her supporters for decades can also help heal a divided nation.
“It’s really nice that we have all these plans, but if you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming,” she said. “He didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying: ‘Make America great again.’ We’ve got to get deeper than just these superficial fixes.”
Later, she said Trump’s immigration plans have “attacked a basic principle of America’s moral core: We open our hearts to the stranger.”
Swalwell, 38, a congressman from California is competing to distinguish himself from other candidates who are doing better in polls. Harris, who is also from California, has consistently been more popular among potential voters. Buttigieg, the candidate closest to Swalwell in age, also has fared better.
Swalwell took an early swing at Biden. “Joe Biden was right when he said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago,” he said. “Pass the torch.”
Yang, a former tech executive and political newcomer, has built his campaign around a monthly universal basic income of $1,000 to every U.S. citizen, part of what he has called the “nerdiest presidential campaign in history.”
Yang has polled at 1 percent, but is still even with traditional politicians such as Kirsten Gillibrand and ahead of several candidates who didn’t meet the threshold for the first debate. On Thursday, Yang touted his universal basic income plan repeatedly and expounded on how he thinks it would solve an array of problems.
“It would be the trickle-up economy,” he said. “We would spend the money and it would circulate through our regional economies. ... This is the move that we have to make particularly as technology is now automating away millions of American jobs.”
How each candidate stood out Wednesday night
Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, has been hunting for a breakout moment to help him escape single-digit, middle-of-the-pack poll numbers. Last week, he tangled with former vice president Joe Biden over comments that made race one of the top issues in the presidential debate.
He framed this debate as an introduction to voters — including ones he addressed in Spanish — who haven’t been laser-focused on Democratic politics.
On a question about corporate consolidation, he made the first of several mentions about his hometown, Newark. “I live in a low-income black and brown community. ... I see every day that this economy is not working for average Americans. It’s not helping people in my community.” Later, during a question about gun control, he mentioned Newark again.
“I’m the only one on this panel here who had seven people shot in my neighborhood just last week,” he said. “Shad Smith was shot with an assault rifle on my block just last year.”
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, has struggled to gain traction in recent weeks after launching his campaign to much fanfare.
He’s faced calls to set out more detailed policies and a clearer ideological position. In a bid to distinguish himself on Wednesday, he broke into Spanish as he gave his first answer of the night.
“We need to include each person in the success of this economy,” he said. “But if we want to do that, we need to include each person in our democracy. Each voter, we need the representation, and each voice, we must listen to.”
He traded blows with Castro over immigration and pledged to “ensure you don’t criminalize those who are seeking asylum” in America.
Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, entered the debate as the highest-polling candidate on the stage, regaining ground she lost shortly after announcing her candidacy.
The senator focused on distinguishing herself from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who appears on Thursday’s debate stage, with a policy-focused and progressive campaign.
On Wednesday, she made it clear she supported Sanders’s proposal for a Medicare-for-all plan. “Medicare-for-all solves that problem,” she said. “And I understand, there are a lot of politicians who say, ‘Oh, it’s not possible.’ . . . What they’re really telling you is, they just won’t fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right. And I will fight for basic human rights.”
Castro, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, has stressed his executive experience and his youth. In San Antonio, he was the youngest mayor of any major U.S. city and the youngest member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. He remains mired in the low single digits in most polls. The only Latino in the race, he was the first Democrat to roll out a detailed immigration plan.
On Wednesday he encouraged every candidate to commit to getting rid of specific immigration policies that “criminalize desperation.”
He said those policies — specifically ones that limit the number of people who can apply for asylum at one particular time — were directly responsible for the deaths of a Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande. The photo of their bodies circulated widely Wednesday.
“Oscar and Valeria went to a port of entry and they were denied an opportunity and then they died trying to get into the United States.”
Klobuchar, a U.S. senator from Minnesota, has tried to cast herself as a moderate pragmatist, willing to reach across the aisle to get results. She touted that she is one of the most effective senators and said she was the candidate best positioned to appeal to voters in critical Midwestern states. On Wednesday, she said her economic stances would also motivate black and Hispanic voters go to the polls for her.
During the debate, she talked about her more moderate stance on Medicare expansion. “I am simply concerned with kicking half of America off their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says.”
Ryan, an Ohio congressman, entered the debate trying to position himself as a strong advocate for blue-collar working Americans. The 45-year-old, a late entry to the race, is known for being a moderate Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for House speaker in 2016.
Debating immigration in response to the photo of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande, he struck out at the president.
“The end result is now we’ve got kids literally laying in their own snot with three-week-old diapers that haven’t been changed,” he said. “We’ve got to tell this president that is not a sign of strength, Mr. President. That is a sign of weakness.”
Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii and an Iraq War veteran, has had difficulty separating herself in a crowded contest and faced difficult questions over her decision to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017.
Known for her opposition to U.S. military intervention, on Wednesday she deflected a question on equal pay and instead set out her years of military service to condemn President Trump’s relationship with Iran.
“This president and his chicken-hawk Cabinet have taken us to the brink of war with Iran,” she said.
Gabbard called for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and warned that America was “no better off” than it was in 2001. “We have to bring our troops back,” she said.
Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, was the first to declare his bid for the presidency, in July 2017, but has struggled to gain traction despite a heavy investment in Iowa and frequent trips to the Hawkeye state. He painted himself as a moderate with “real solutions not impossible promises.”
Last week, he clashed with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) over Medicare-for-all, and on Wednesday, he clashed with other Democrats on the same issue.
“I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what is broken,” he said. “It’s bad policy to get rid of every hospital in this country.”
de Blasio, the mayor of New York, has told voters he is an unapologetic liberal whose hometown is a petri dish for the type of Democratic ideas that others have only been theorizing about. Still, as an unpopular mayor, he has struggled to make a dent in any polls, has low favorability numbers and, at one point, was less popular in New York than fellow Gothamite Donald Trump.
In a seeming attempt to gain exposure, he frequently muscled his way into questions asked of other candidates. He also spoke about being in charge of the nation’s largest police force and progressive policies that have been enacted in New York.
“We’ve been addressing income inequality in New York City by raising wages . . . by putting money back in the hands of people,” he said. “This Democratic Party has to be strong and bold and progressive, and in New York we’ve proven we can do something different.”
Inslee, the governor of Washington, entered the debate having positioned himself as a one-issue candidate who has made combating climate change the clear focus of his campaign. On Wednesday, Inslee stayed on message, casting himself as the contender prepared to make it the nation’s first priority. Hitting out at the president’s opposition to wind power, he said: “Donald Trump is simply wrong. He says they cause cancer. I say they cause jobs.”
He also attempted to mark himself out as “the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health and health insurance,” prompting Klobuchar to respond: “I just want to say there are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”
About this story
The Post tracked approximately how much time each candidate spend talking. When multiple candidate spoke over one another, neither was awarded time.
Originally published June 26, 2019.