12 Democratic candidates competed for attention during Tuesday’s three-hour-long debate. But at least on the measure of airtime, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) came out far ahead.
Total minutes spoken
Warren, who in the last month has emerged as a top challenger to former president Joe Biden, rebutted attacks from across the stage, giving her additional time according to the debate rules.
Four of tonight’s debaters are at risk of not making the stage in November: former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii). Klobuchar and O’Rourke found their way into conversations. Gabbard and Steyer mostly remained on the sidelines.
In the first three debates, candidates spoke for disparate amounts of time, largely tracking each’s standing in the polls.
Total minutes spoken
Gabbard did not qualify for the August debate. Steyer did not qualify for the first three debates.
How each candidate stood out
With a narrow lead over Biden in many recent primary polls, Warren for the first time came under sustained attack from her rivals, including Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Harris, Amy Klobuchar and even Beto O’Rourke, who challenged the Massachusetts senator on whether she has been straight with Americans about the costs of her many plans and if her proposals could actually be passed into law.
Warren pushed back, arguing that she had dreamed big before and cited her role in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — suggesting that the CFPB agency had been created despite skepticism from members of the Obama administration. Biden immediately took offense, telling Warren he had worked to win support in the Senate. But the senator was unmoved.
“I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law,” Warren replied.
Thirteen hours before the former vice president Joe Biden walked onto the debate stage, an interview with his son aired in which where Hunter Biden said it was poor judgment — but not improper — for him to take a job with a Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was shepherding U.S. policy there.
Biden reiterated that he had done nothing wrong, a point that other candidates didn’t object to.
“My son did nothing wrong,” Biden said in answer to the second question he was asked during Tuesday’s debate. “I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government infor rooting out corruption in Ukraine. . . . My son’s statement speaks for itself. What I think is important is that we focus on why it’s so important to remove this man [President Trump] from office.”
Klobuchar has not yet qualified for the November debate, so she went into Tuesday fighting to stay in the race. Her strategy has focused on the fact that she’s from a Midwestern state that neighbors Iowa.
On Tuesday, she repeatedly went after Warren. Early on, she said the Massachusetts senator wasn’t being transparent about how much more taxpayers would have to pay for her Medicare-for-all plan.
“At least Bernie’s being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up, and I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice,” she said.
The former Texas congressman entered Tuesday’s debate with a degree of urgency, warning supporters ahead of time that unless he turns things around, he might not make the cut for the November debate in Atlanta.
After making an early splash in the race, O’Rourke has struggled ever since, retooling his message to embrace increasingly liberal positions on issues like gun control. On Tuesday, he defended his proposed mandatory buyback of AR-15s and AK-47s, though he struggled to explain how he would enforce it.
O’Rourke called out Buttigieg, who has publicly criticized O’Rourke’s gun plan as “shiny object” that has no chance of passing.
Buttigieg responded: “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.”
The debate is the Vermont senator’s Sanders’s biggest event since suffering a heart attack two weeks ago in Las Vegas. The oldest candidate in the field entered Tuesday’s debate needing to show that his campaign continues unabated and to dispel worries that he is too old to handle the strenuous job of commander in chief.
He joked about his health (“I’m healthy. I’m feeling great. I’m in excellent health”) and said he would be mounting a “vigorious campaign all over this country,” but he focused more on other people’s health care.
“I get a little bit tired I’m sick of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel, which has 87 million uninsured, 30,000 people dying every single year, 500,000 people going bankrupt for what one reason: They came down with cancer,” he said. “I will tell you what the issue is here. The issue is whether the Democratic Party has the guts to stand up to the health-care industry, which made 100 billion dollars in profit, whether we have the guts to stand up to the corrupt price-fixing pharmaceutical industry.”
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., has raised more than $51 million since the beginning of the year. And he boasts one of the largest early state ground operations — including in Iowa, where he regularly draws some of the largest crowds in the field. But Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay president in U.S. history, has struggled to break out from the middle of the pack.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg was noticeably more aggressive than past debates, repeatedly challenging Warren on a litany of issues, including the cost of her proposed Medicare-for-all plan. He accused her of promoting “infinite partisan combat.”
“I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage to everybody is to obliterate private plans, kicking 150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years,” Buttigieg told Warren.”
The California senator’s Harris’s previous debate attack on Joe Biden did little to stop her slide in the polls. She’s recently defended the former vice president when he was attacked by President Trump.
Instead of other Democrats, oOn Tuesday she repeatedly went after Donald Trump on domestic and foreign policy, saying he had “sold out” U.S. workers and U.S. allies. “What has happened in Syria is yet again Donald Trump selling folks out, and in this case he sold out the Kurds, who . . . fought with us and thousands died in our fight against [the Islamic State],” she said.
“And let’s be clear what Donald Trump has done . . .because of that phone call with (Turkish President) Erdoğan is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters, a get-out-of-jail-free card. . . . and you know who the winner is in this there? There are four: Russia, Iran, Assad and ISIS. This is a crisis of Donald Trump’s making, and it is on a long list of crises of Donald Trump’s making, and that’s why dude gotta go.”
Booker, the former mayor of Newark and a current senator from New Jersey, has had several buzzworthy debate moments, but they have yet to translate into a bump in polling and fundraising. His campaign recently announced that if he didn’t receive $1.7 million in donations, he wouldn’t have enough to go on.
On Tuesday, he repeatedly insisted that Democratic candidates’ attacks on each other were playing into Donald Trump’s the president’s hands.
“We’ve got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president, and how we talk about each other in this debate actually really matters,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with or being friends with everybody on this stage, and tearing each other down because we have a different plan to me is unacceptable.”
Once viewed as the longest of long shot candidates, Yang, a former lawyer and entrepreneur, has attracted large crowds and an intense online following that has helped him outlast better-known Democrats in the race. Last quarter, he raised $10 million, eclipsing many of his rivals.
But Yang, who has made his pitch for a $1,000-a-month universal basic income the signature policy proposal of his campaign, is still trying to be taken more seriously. After several debates, where Yang seemed to vanish, he was front and center Tuesday during debates over his universal basic income pitch the UBI and the impact of automation on job loss.
While he joined other Democrats in support of impeachment, Yang cautioned the party “shouldn’t have any illusions that impeaching Donald Trump will, one, be successful or, two, erase the problems that got him elected in 2016.”
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, has struggled to stand out in this year’s historically large field of candidates. And once again, Castro struggled to get speaking time Tuesday in what could be his last appearance on the national debate stage. At one point, Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race, criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. “Think about how absurd it is that this president is caging kids on the border and effectively letting ISIS prisoners run free,” he said.
The first headline for Tulsi Gabbard from Tuesday’s debate: She showed up. Just days ago, the four-term Hawaii congresswoman threatened a boycott of the debate in protest of what she called the “rigging” of the election by the Democratic National Committee and the corporate media. But she abruptly shifted course with no explanation.
On Tuesday, Gabbard, a veteran who has won support from the far right and the far left for her criticism of U.S. military involvement abroad, was asked about Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. “Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties,” Gabbard replied.
Steyer is on the debate stage for the first time. He’s also a billionaire running against candidates who have vilified the richest Americans. Elizabeth Warren’s rallies frequently feature people chanting “two cents,” in support of her plan for wealth tax on people worth more than $50 million.
When Steyer was asked about other candidates’ war on billionaires like himself, he said that the U.S. America’s economy is unfairly weighted in favor of corporations. “I was one of the first people on this stage to propose a wealth tax,” he said. “I would undo every Republican tax cut for rich people and major corporations.”
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.
Candidate illustrations by Ben Kirchner.
Originally published Oct. 15, 2019.