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PERSPECTIVE: This was the best debate so far (but still pretty painful to watch)

If a debate is judged on how well it serves the voting public, tonight’s debate surpassed those in Miami and Detroit in June and July. Those can best be described, respectively, as a hot mess and something slightly cooler than a hot mess.

Houston’s was better. Because of the slightly longer response times, the wise decision to eliminate closing statements, and the fact that the field has been winnowed to the strongest candidates, the debate was less chaotic. Candidates had time to develop answers a bit more, and there was less of the incredibly annoying and counterproductive crosstalk that marred the others (especially the first).

Moderators generally did a better job, as Jill Miller Zimon, project director of the Ohio Debate Commission, observed in an email: “Moderators are measured and not making it about them, audience isn’t overly boisterous and candidate back-and-forth has occurred mostly organically.”

Adding to the success: The final question, which asked candidates about their biggest professional setback, generated thoughtful and engaging (if self-serving) responses. But was anyone still watching? Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin expressed this succinctly in a final-hour tweet: “Is anyone whose job doesn’t require them to watch this still watching?”

I don’t know if this will peg me an easy grader, but I’d give it a solid B.

Third Democratic debate: Analysis and fact-checking

Ten Democratic candidates will be on stage Thursday night for the third debate of the presidential primary race. The previous two debates have been held over two nights, but the Democratic National Committee tightened the donor and polling requirements for participation, decreasing the field.

The debate is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Eastern and last three hours. It’s being held in Houston and will be aired on ABC.

On stage will be former vice president Joe Biden; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.); South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former congressman Beto O’Rourke; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); businessman Andrew Yang; former HUD secretary Julián Castro; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

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