In the heart of Ohio at Otterbein University in Westerville, twelve Democratic candidates went head-to-head in the largest presidential primary debate in history last night.
Moderated by CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, alongside Marc Lacey of the New York Times, candidates included:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
- Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
- California Senator Kamala Harris
- Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
- Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
- Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
- Entrepreneur Tom Steyer of California
- Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York
It was Elizabeth Warren, however, who reinforced her perception as front-runner over the course of the night, as she drew sustained criticism from other candidates, who were especially quick to question her about her stance on healthcare.
After surpassing Joe Biden in the polls following September’s debate, Warren, a proponent of the so-called “Medicare for All” proposal was challenged by other candidates, including O’Rourke, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, who claimed her approach to healthcare was too heavy-handed for the proposal to be effectively implemented.
Additionally, concerns were raised about how such a program would be paid for and more importantly, who would pay for such a measure should it be enacted. This incited further questions about taxation and revealed just how much of a divisive issue healthcare remains among the various Democratic candidates.
While much of the evening’s discussions centered on healthcare, other hotly debated topics also included impeachment proceedings, President Trump’s recent foreign policy decision to remove troops from Syria, the impact of automation on the workforce, income inequality, and gun control policy.
Notably, border security, immigration, and climate change went largely unaddressed.
It was regarding gun control policy, however, that Beto O’Rourke was given one of his most defining moments of the night.
After sparring over gun control policy earlier this month, O’Rourke, an advocate for so-called “mandatory buy-backs” of privately-owned guns, and Buttigieg, a proponent of mandatory background checks and “red flag” laws, disagreed publicly once again, when Buttigieg challenged O’Rourke about how he planned to implement a program that would necessitate government confiscation of privately-owned firearms.
“You just made it clear that you don’t know how this is going to take weapons off the street. If you can develop the plan further, we can have a debate,” Buttigieg said.
O’Rourke responded with a call for stricter gun control measures from Democratic leadership and unity within the party by saying, “Let’s decide what we are going to believe in, what we are going to achieve, and then let’s bring this country together in order to do that,” while also warning against being driven by polls and focus groups.
“The problem isn’t the polls. The problem is the policy, and I don’t need lessons from you on courage – political or personal,” Buttigieg fired back.
To this, O’Rourke said Buttigieg’s comments were “a slap in the face” to gun control advocacy groups and survivors of gun violence.
This is not the first time O’Rourke has received public attention for statements made regarding his stance on gun control policy.
The Texas candidate made statements during the third Democratic debate in Houston advocating for gun control and famously said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s.”
He also created a stir earlier this week for statements made about his belief that religious institutions, including churches, should lose their tax-exempt status if they practice their belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
With so many candidates vying to be heard, the evening’s events largely featured new-wave, progressive ideals, like those held by Warren and Sanders, versus more moderate views held by candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.
Age was also an important debate topic for the evening, as Bernie Sanders made his first debate appearance since recovering from a heart attack.
Sanders, Biden, and Warren are all over the age of 70, while Gabbard, at age 38, would be the youngest president in American history if elected, usurping Teddy Roosevelt who was only 42 when inaugurated.
While Klobuchar and Buttigieg had a stronger night, native Texan Julian Castro’s performance was lackluster with his speaking time only slightly ahead of Gabbard and Steyer.
Though Warren and Biden had the longest speaking times when compared to the other candidates, Klobuchar and O’Rourke maintained the third and fourth longest times respectively, ahead of even Bernie Sanders.
When looking at third-quarter fundraising numbers and how Texas candidates are faring comparatively, O’Rourke reported raising $4.5 million with only $3.2 million cash on hand, while Castro reported $3.5 million in contributions with cash on hand value of just slightly more than $1.1 million.
By comparison, front-runner Elizabeth Warren reported nearly $25 million last quarter.
Polling data also indicates less than three percent of Democratic primary voters in support of O’Rourke and less than one percent for Castro.
The line-up for November’s fifth primary debate in Georgia has yet to be finalized, but so far, eight candidates have qualified.
Neither O’Rourke nor Castro are among those eight.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.