Detroit Debate Night One Recap: The Long March

That was a looonnnngg debate. More than two and a half hours. With ten candidates, I guess it was necessary, but wow. Done whining. On to the review.

Most candidates were stronger than in their first attempt. The CNN moderator team was stronger than the NBC group in the first debate. The enhanced anti-interruption rules helped. Overall, this was cleaner than last month.

Let’s see how the candidates did:

Group 1: Bernie & Liz

Elizabeth Warren is a good debater. Unlike round one, where she was a very strong presence for the first hour and then faded to the background a bit, she was fully engaged for all 150+ minutes. There’s no way any of her supporters will abandon her based on the debate.

Also unlike round one, she got to do some real jousting. While nobody is going to confuse John Delaney with Donald Trump, voters looking for a candidate who can throw down have extra reason to have confidence in her.

Bernie was much stronger than last month, especially in the first hour, when he powered through the health care section. Basically, he did the Full Bern. Larry David is lucky it’s summer, or he’d be stuck reprising his role this weekend.

In order for either Warren or Sanders to really move in the polls, Biden (for Bernie) or Harris (for Warren) will need to stumble or wreck tomorrow. It appears Sanders supporters like him significantly more than Warren, and vice versa. Since each gave their fans what they wanted, super unlikely they gain or lose anything to the other.

Group 2: Buttigieg, O’Rourke, & Klobuchar

Delaney and Friends stole a bit of their thunder. This group did get more speaking time. The final numbers were almost exactly in polling strength order. Beto was clearly better than when he stumbled through his first debate. Klobuchar did a little better than last time, though her answers just aren’t debate friendly. She’s usually stronger in the post-game interviews.

Mayor Pete was solid. Just like last time. He’s a good debater. The Warren/Sanders-Delaney battle is more cable news friendly. He’ll wind up overshadowed when people see clips, or those who actually watched think back in a few days.

Beto and Buttigieg in particular were striking a balance between the Sanders-Warren side of the party and the Delaney-Bullock-Hickenlooper-Ryan group. That’s where they truly are, and theoretically they could appeal to the widest audience, but it wasn’t as striking in real time.

Group 3: Delaney, Bullock, Hickenlooper, & Ryan

The Moderates v. Sanders/Warren format helped each of these candidates. All seemed more effective than their first attempts. Delaney and Bullock made a larger impact than Hickenlooper and Ryan.

Some pundits thought Delaney did better, as he put up a very direct contrast to the progressive duo. Others noted Warren got in the best line on him, and preferred Bullock’s approach. Personally, there were moments where the Montana governor gave me Rick Perry flashbacks.

Mind you, Perry was the GOP polling leader for more than a few minutes in fall 2011. But I question whether anyone who reminds anyone of any recent Texas governor can win a Democratic nomination.

Nonetheless, both he and Delaney improved their chances of getting the 2% polling results and increased amounts of small donors to keep going.

Marianne Williamson:

She was an interesting palate cleanser. More lucid than her first debate too. If this was her final appearance, she went out well. It’s not impossible she’ll make the September contests. During the debate, she was the most googled candidate in every state except Montana (where they were suddenly searching for their own two-term governor.)

She’s had success finding contributors, so it’s not out of the question that she’ll reach the 130,000 individual donor level by the August. The debate helped her in this endeavor. It only takes reaching 2% in a few certified polls to complete the qualification process.

No, I don’t think she has a chance of winning any delegates, never mind a primary or the nomination. The reason her potential fall debate participation matters is head count. The third debate is already scheduled for two nights (9/12, 9/13), but the fourth isn’t locked in yet. If there are more than 10 participants, they’ll have to split, leading to a lot more air time for each contender.

So if you’re O’Rourke or Klobuchar, likely to make the fall debates, but still a long way away from contention, an extra Marianne Williamson can get you into a split debate with 6 people each instead of being on the far outside of a larger single evening.

Will any of this nuance matter? Depends a lot on how Uncle Joe holds up against Kamala, Cory, et al tonight. The tricky part for everyone other than Sanders and Warren is this. If Biden does well, there’s not much space for other relative moderates. If he does badly, and somebody draws blood, as Harris did in round 1, it will overshadow anything that happened in the first night.

As they say during March Madness, the goal is to survive and advance. For anyone who isn’t already in, the only concern is to make the next set of debates.

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