(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Megan McArdle, and this is Round 45 — the number of presidents we’ve had! And at least the number of Democrats who’ve been in this race at one point or another, surely!

The Commentary

For debate after Democratic debate, the stage has stayed stubbornly crowded. We started with almost enough Democratic candidates to stage a cricket match, inched slowly downward toward a baseball game … and then came Thursday’s debate, and suddenly we can’t even get a proper game of pickup basketball together.

There were seven candidates on stage, all of whom finally had enough time to make substantive points. Not all of them used that time — Tom Steyer managed to be cripplingly dull and utterly unmemorable. But anyone with an ounce of charisma and a soupcon of gumption at least had a good chance.

What did they do with their chance? Well, for one thing, they piled on Pete Buttigieg, who has been doing well in the polls, and therefore was due for his turn in the hot seat. He was obviously prepared for the moment, but then, so was Sen. Elizabeth Warren before him, and she still suffered by it.

Buttigieg parried gamely but couldn’t bat away the fact that he’s 37 and his only political experience came as the mayor of America’s 306th-largest city. He has never managed anything at federal scale nor won an election outside of a deep-blue city.

Buttigieg’s loss was Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s gain. With a less crowded field, Klobuchar could command more attention, and she landed some body blows on Buttigieg. On the other hand, it’s not a good sign Klobuchar needed space and quiet to make her mark, because one thing you can be sure of is that Trump won’t give her any of either.

Andrew Yang also benefited from a little more breathing room. His willingness to tell dad jokes makes him seem quite human and rather charming, qualities politicians generally struggle to project. As for the others, no one hurt themselves too badly (and Joe Biden, still the front-runner, succeeds just by standing there and not falling asleep). But they didn’t do themselves much good either.

Does it matter that the small fry finally got their moment in the spotlight? Will it shake up the race? Or merely the side game of musical chairs that has been quietly ongoing outside of the primary’s top tier?

— Megan McArdle

The Ranking

Don’t forget to click on the chart’s yellow highlighted text to see the rest of the Ranking Committee’s annotations.

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Joe Biden
2. Bernie Sanders UP 2
3. Elizabeth Warren DOWN 1
4. Pete Buttigieg DOWN 1
5. Amy Klobuchar
6. Andrew Yang UP 2
7. Michael Bloomberg
8. Cory Booker DOWN 2

Falls off ranking: Deval Patrick, Hillary Clinton

Last week’s ranking: Round 44 | Here are the 15 people with the best shot at the VP nomination

From the Annotations

Tempted to rank him lower, because he was the piñata at the debate and barely managed to hold his own. The questions about his fundraising in the “wine cave” hurt a little; the questions about his lack of experience hurt more.

Eugene Robinson, on Pete Buttigieg

With infinite money and a dazzling resume, he’s the “In Case of Emergency Break Glass” candidate.

David Von Drehle, on Michael Bloomberg

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, don’t go too far. The race could winnow into a high-octane game of ping-pong before you know it.

Read more on 2020:

David Byler: Build your own Iowa caucus with the Post Opinions Simulator

Jennifer Rubin: Joe Biden had his best debate yet. But the wine cave business lost.

Alexandra Petri: The brawl in the wine cave

Karen Tumulty: The debate reminds us that the only way to remove Trump from office is at the ballot box

Paul Waldman: What Buttigieg and Warren are really fighting about