What happened in the second 2020 Democratic debate? Read our live chat transcript of night one.

Jul 30, 2019

Five Post reporters took reader questions during the second Democratic debate in Detroit. Follow the conversation here, and they'll be back Wednesday, July 31 at 7 p.m.

Your reporters are:
Robert Costa, national political reporter
Ashley Parker, White House reporter
David Weigel, national political correspondent
Cleve R. Wootson Jr, national political reporter
Seung Min Kim, White House reporter

Want more? Winners and losers from Night 1 | The Fact Checker on 13 statements that caught their attention | Evolution or revolution? Dan Balz's Take on night 1

10 more candidates, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, face off Wednesday. We'll be back to chat then.
Ask a question here and join us tomorrow.

Thank you for joining us tonight. I now want to go through this again and read it all carefully. I bet you'll do the same. You can pick up some points for the water cooler at work (or Twitter). See you tomorrow and we'll do it all again; join us at this link.

My closing thoughts...

Bullock: A new face from Trump country with a folksy demeanor and big smile, who also detests the Koch brothers.

Williamson: An outsider who’ll take on insiders and wonks, who see argues are misguided. A celebrity author with an increasingly urgent message and “energy” and a call for love.

Delaney: A proud moderate who was a backbench congressman but suddenly and happily finds himself on the big stage as the foil for the liberals with star power

Ryan: A pundit-knocking Ohioan who doesn’t talk about challenging Speaker Pelosi in recent years. Instead, he wants you to see him as a union-friendly youthful lawmaker.

Hickenlooper: Like Bullock, but from Colorado and a fierce defender of free trade.

Klobuchar: A Minnesotan who pledges to take on Big Pharma and win over Trump voters without endorsing Medicare for All along the way.

O’Rourke: Passionate and proud of his race in Texas, despite losing. Seems to catch on more in live settings and in person, but the race is young and he could  still have a moment. 

Buttigieg: A Midwestern proponent for generational change who is dealing with issues in South Bend, but still in or near the top tier of this race, depending on the poll. A smooth communicator who deftly navigates that area between the left and center-left.

Warren: A liberal favorite who retains her place near the top of the pack. Sanders takes many of the shots from the center she’d usually have to weather, if he wasn’t running. Comfortable at center stage.

Sanders: Talks bio in his closing statement, which is notable, since he usually avoids doing that. He then takes on Trump. Had an upbeat turn and seemed to enjoy clashing with Delaney and others.

This debate felt...long to me. There were some interesting moments here and there, but other than Warren's slapdown of Delaney — which, frankly, was probably more valuable as an affirmative statement of what she represents — I'm not sure what really stands out. Marianne Williamson was better than expected. Delaney got a lot of time — will it matter? Did he make the most of it? I'm curious if  some of these moderate, midwestern candidates— Rep. Tim Ryan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who had objectively solid debates will pop. And, of course, we'll do it all again tomorrow.

Not everybody, including me, is happy with the format, or the moderators, or the answers, or tonight's combination of candidates, but in the long run this is good for all concerned citizens. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for doing this, not just the 5 chat moderator/contributors, but also the entire IT team that is facilitating tonight's chat.. Thank you for helping this citizen focus on answers we all heard tonight.

Such a kind comment - thank you! And thank you for reading The Washington Post. 

Thank you for having this live chat. Great job! Kudos for staying on top of the questions and answers on the debate. You all are consumate professionals. Please do this again for future debates. Respect & Love Good People.

Really appreciate the comment and your time. We'll be back tomorrow.

For me Klobuchar was an eye opener. I really want to hear more from her. Warren is fiery and ready for battle! Mayor Pete--still love him. Williamson? Unexpectedly lucid. And Bernie's hair was nicely under control.

So many questions were posed in a Republican frame. Why doesn’t the DNC insist on a fairer debate structure?

What's holding Hickenlooper back? He's as moderate and anti-Democratic socialist as Delaney. He's governed a key state. What's the gap?

Just not his style. If anyone has not read Holly Bailey's profile of "Hick," it explains everything: He's a low-key guy with face blindness who does not like to emote. 

Have you seen any polls that shows age is important to most Americans? I don't think it's of big importance.

I think it's great that Democrats discuss and argue - that's democracy. But I can't see how the tiny slivers of time granted by the moderators are helping that process. Don't the moderators seem more interested in pitting them against each other rather than hearing an actual explanation of a position? The questions they ask are just dumb, I think so

Closing statements have begun. Thoughts?

No one wiped out as definitively as Ryan and O'Rourke did one month ago; it helped that neither really got into, or wanted, a back-and-forth.

Sanders gave one of his strongest performances in any debate, and these multi-candidate forums are much trickier than what he faced against Hillary Clinton. He did a lot of good for himself.

Warren had at most one weak moment, when she took some of Delaney's bait on health care. She otherwise treated him like a speed bag, and for the first time seemed to have real fun slashing up an argument or an opponent. 

Klobuchar ended up as the most convincing and positive of the moderates onstage. People keep waiting and waiting for her to break out somewhere; it is hard to see that happening if Biden remains dominant with moderate voters, but she set herself up for it. (I will not comment on how she claimed to be from the Iron Range. Her grandfather was from the Iron Range! She's from Minneapolis!) And she grabbed the low-hanging fruit: Telling voters that she won't be a president who makes them want to change the channel.

Bullock introduced himself well but seemed to fade and miss words by the end. Delaney was, paradoxically, the best-spoken moderate and the one who probably alienated the most people.

Buttigieg was the most adept at bringing questions back to what's worked for him on the trail; it felt like he was the only candidate close to Sanders and Warren on the applause-o-meter.

I feel that Warren and Klobuchar - with impassioned, personal closing statements - were among the strongest here.

But honestly, I could do without closing statements. 

I swear, If the guy points his finger one more time, I’m gonna vote for...anybody but him. Can you guys speak to the optics?

You've said something that a number of Democrats definitely think about Sanders; the ones who remain furious about how long he ran against Clinton.

I generally try to bite my tongue about "optics" unless something unmistakably good or bad takes place (i.e. Rick Perry melting down). But Twitter (which I occasionally spend time on) has been churning out memes of Delaney looking chagrined by Warren. Ryan controlled the bug-eye look from his first debate.

The X-factor here: What did Hickenlooper do to himself by making fun of Sanders's wild waving hands? It's a trait that even some Democrats roll their eyes at but it didn't cover Hickenlooper in dignity.

What do Republicans see when they watch this debate? What's the view inside Trump's circle?

As of now, there doesn't seem to be one definitive moment or image - such as the raising of the hands on health care or immigration - that could serve as immediate political fodder for Republicans. But I can see the Trump operation already seizing on the differences within the Democratic field - in particular, the moderates' criticism of the more liberal candidates - to paint the party as too extreme. Exhibit A: This comment from the Trump campaign's national press secretary. 

Meanwhile, the Republicans I'm chatting with can't get enough of Marianne Williamson ... 

I would love to throw out a like or thumbs up to alot of these questions and comments everyone is making. Since it's live it can be challenging. Maybe your IT guys can look into it for future debates. Great job so far WP.

Thank you! 

Watching this debate has left me frustrated. I was hoping to see someone break out. In my opinion, Amy Klobuchar has done well. Steve Bullock has made himself known and Elizabeth Warren put in a strong performance. Just my opinion.

Even Williamson throws a political punch at Delaney (she glanced his way): “I look at some of you and I almost wonder why you’re Democrats,” she said. "You almost think something is wrong with using the instruments of government to help people.”

Remember, one of the early spins from the first debate was that Delaney had a good night. On debate points, he did. And he is an effective communicator for center-left politics. But we're near the end of this and his most memorable moments have been stuff Democrats don't like – saying that Warren can't possibly pass a wealth tax, for example. The wealth tax is incredibly popular with Democrats.

Everything about this debate makes me wish there was some organization articulating what all these candidates agree on. Is that the DNC? Or what? Because what I am hearing is a bunch of individuals struggling to distinguish themselves on a variety of issues we have much agreement about. Can we amplify that? What’s the way to make that happen?

Tonight appears to be your lucky night.  We've addressed policy differences in an easy-to-read graphic. 

Buttigieg gets to cite his faith as he talks about raising the minimum wage. This is one of his usual applause lines on the campaign trail, talking about conservative Christian Republicans' positions. He wants to be seen as a Midwestern outsider who can win over religious voters in Trump states. It's clear he wanted to get that part of his pitch in as this debate moved past 10 p.m. ET.

Warren's response on trade and criticisms of new Nafta (i.e. the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) reminds me that one major yet not-often-discussed threat to the ratification of the deal - undoubtedly the Trump administration's top legislative priority - is the 2020 primary field. 

Reminds me of how opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership by one Donald Trump and by one Hillary Clinton greatly complicated the trade pact - a major Obama priority - in 2015. (Here's a piece on that from when I worked at Politico). 


Rep. Tim Ryan brings up China, a key issue for President Trump, who is currently engaged with China on trade talks. Are you surprised that China doesn't come up more often among Democrats in this race?

In short, not really.  The question of  China -- and foreign policy in general -- is really not stressed with much nuance on the campaign trail.  Voters routinely want to know what candidates are going to do about healthcare and the economy, they want to know if a candidate can go head-to-head with Trump. So most of the talk about China is in broad strokes: talks of China as a villain that steals American intellectual property and of a playing field that needs to be leveled.  

I'm originally from El Paso and I don't know him personally but I know of him well. We are about the same age. He doesn't have the moxy and the Ummpf! that is needed to beat trump. Which is the main goal.

Yet his 2018 Senate campaign was one of the Democrats' signature races for his party and led to a huge cash haul and a documentary on Netflix. Running against Ted Cruz is different than running against more than 20 ambitious national Democrats.

Have to give credit to Delaney for a taking an aggressive stand on TPP and free trade even though he knows it is not popular right now. Didn't know much about him prior to tonight but he has come across as reasonable without hedging much on his answers.

Unlike most, or perhaps all of you, I watched the first Kennedy-Nixon debate (I was 12) in 1960. There was no audience there that night, and, if you watch the kinescopes now, you know the country and history are better for it. Ted Sorensen probably could have written marvelous 'applause' lines, but he did not. How can we get both parties to agree to have audience-free debates for the rest of the cycle?

Is there a live poll indicating which ones are standing out? Or will y'all discuss winners and losers at the end?

One thing that matters a lot in these debates is who gets the most time, and that's something we're tracking right here. Of  course, what they do with that time is also important. 

I have enormous compassion for black Americans and believe they deserve more, but why is no one talking about the people we stole this entire country from in this discussion of reparations? They are living in extreme poverty and are still seen as very secondary citizens, and still victimized by our country.

You definitely heard more about reparations tonight than you had at any previous Democratic debate! But you might have left confused about what everyone is proposing. The "Sheila Jackson Lee bill" that O'Rourke referenced would create a commission to study reparations, while Williamson was alone in talking about cash payments.

This is an issue that polls terribly with non-black voters, and is not a priority issue for black voters, so the candidates were pretty happy to move on.

Marianne Williamson won't get much further in this process, but she does articulate her vision with impressive clarity. I hope her voice lives in Trump's head for eternity.

This is not a question. I think Marianne Williamson has had some breakout moments even though I don't think she has a chance of being the nominee.

Who in the bottom tier have made the biggest impact?

I think Marianne Williamson had two strong answers — her one on the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and her one just now on reparations. 

I don't know that it totally changes the dynamic for her, but she definitely is having a better debate than she did last time.

Delaney is taking up the moderate mantle and getting time  to do so. Klobuchar and Bullock, too, but Delaney is more willing to directly criticize Sanders and Warren, so he is having an impact. Whether it gives his campaign a lift remains to be seen.

Agree with Ashley that Williamson is doing better than expectations. More focused answers than first debate, even as she uses phrases and descriptions that are not used by other Democrats, to put it mildly. 

Have candidates been able to highlight Trump’s attacks on African American, Latino, Asian, and Muslim people without calling him racist? Does anyone seem to have a strategy for avoiding the political trap he seems to be laying with his racially charged (and yes, racist) remarks?

"The racial divide lives within me," Buttigieg says, talking about race and South Bend. He continues to face difficult questions about his record and how he handles what he called "systemic racism" tonight. 

Klobuchar seemed to walk the line: blasting Trump but saying that his supporters aren't necessarily racist, they're folks who "want a better shake in the economy."  

It seems O'Rourke handled this question well, as he's done with questions on race dating back to his Senate campaign, attacking the issue of racism head on, not just through the lens of President Trump's words, but also about racism and inequality that are baked into our government and economic systems.  

That seems to be in line with what I've heard from African Americans on the campaign trail: not just saying that "racism is bad," but also highlighting that government needs to address social systems that have racial inequality baked into them.  

On Democrats and race: A charged and important issue, pulled to the front of the national debate by the president. Is anyone articulating a particularly notable message this evening? Responding to Trump on race could be a major issue next year for the Democratic nominee.

Warren's response - a forceful one emphasizing that white supremacy needs to be called out as domestic terrorism - seemed to be the strongest one of the batch. But I am also especially interested in seeing how this question is addressed in tomorrow's debate. Though this Democratic field is the most racially diverse in history, by the luck of the draw tonight's slate of candidates are all white. I am reminded of how, in the first debate, Kamala Harris personalized the issue by saying "As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race" -- which led into the busing exchange that became *the* moment of the first debate.

It's tricky because if the question is about race, and racial healing, Democrats have the advantage over Trump. (Look at the polling of voters who considered his tweets to be racist.) If it's about immigration, they can get lost in the thicket. And nobody really had to rebut the Trump message, which is that black unemployment is down; Warren's answer just moved past it to talk about structural racism.

Warren has had real breakout moments with individual black audiences when she discusses this stuff; it cuts deeper than the stuff Beto O'Rourke excels at (and he did so again tonight), of just talking about togetherness.

It really seems like these candidates are like yelling in agreement with each other I can't really tell a difference between a lot of these candidates. Your thoughts?

Rep. Tim Ryan said to Senator Sanders that he doesn't need to yell. Yet while Sanders is a yeller from time to time, perhaps more of a shouter, this isn't a yell-filled mess, full of acrimony. A pretty civil debate, at least at 9:48 p.m. ET.

Mayor Buttigieg seems to be less focused on policy and more on making an electability argument. Do you think he is scoring any points tonight or just treading water?

Word for word, he has probably done the best job talking without saying anything that could backfire. ("The racial divide lives within me" was maybe a little more airy than it needed to be.) But if you're a cynical Democrat, when Buttigieg said he would be able to stand up to Trump as a veteran versus a draft dodger... how do you not think of John Kerry?

He's not made any mistakes, but he's somewhat out of the "pile on John Delaney" fray and out of 'proud moderates" group. Maybe that gives him a little more flexibility down the road. His fundraising haul gives him time to navigate.

I'm sorry to say this but it's the first I've heard her speak at length. I have to be honest--I like what I'm hearing. Michigander here, maybe it's just our corner of the world. But..I'm intrigued

Are you surprised at the amount of airtime that Bullock is getting?

He's new on stage and he's a sitting governor from a red state, so it's natural he'd gets some attention and time.

This Flint line of questioning is likely infuriating to some of the Flint residents I talked to earlier this year, including some who still don't really trust the water.  

Their biggest gripe is that Democrats will use Flint to score political points, then quickly move on.  Three Democrats were in Flint last Wednesday alone, but residents have grown increasingly cynical and worried that the gestures are just more empty promises.  

Marianne Williamson drew cheers for her answer on Flint, Trump, and race in America. What's next for her?

Her line about how what happened in Flint would never have happened in Grosse Pointe is a) almost irrefutably true and b) probably her best line of the night. If she could deliver more insights like that, she might have a chance of not becoming an SNL punch line. But from what we've seen of her so far, that seems to be more the exception than the rule.

Williamson's existential problem is that Democratic voters want candidates with governing experience. I agree with Ashley that she nailed the Grosse Pointe example, but there's not a great desire among Democrats to nudge other candidates aside for the well-spoken celebrity.

I wanted to walk away from this being able to determine some distinction between Sanders and Warren, but so far cannot. Am I missing it or is there not that much to differentiate them?

This is astute; the questions are more about whether their policies are politically impossible than how they would implement them. That's blurring the differences and leaving the audience more with a stylistic choice.

Delaney getting more airtime, this time on climate issues. Who else is making a mark? 

Buttigieg is probably doing the best job avoiding the fray and asking voters to consider him onstage with Donald Trump. Klobuchar, too; it was important for her when she bit her lip and said "everybody wants to win" instead of following CNN's line of questioning.

Remember the audience for this: Democrats who want to beat Trump and do not want these candidates to slash each other up. Of the single digit candidates, only Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and to an extent Williamson did that effectively.

Where is transcript? This blows. Get a court reporter.

At your service - a running transcript of the debate.

If either Sen. Warren or Sen. Sanders would become the nominee (which I think is quite possible), what is the probability that either (or any other progressive) would select a running mate like Sen. Klobuchar. I feel that “balancing the ticket” may be a dirty phrase this time around. Thoughts?

That's a good question. We discussed this a bit earlier in a response to a question about who, if Biden was the nominee, he would choose as a running-mate — and the consensus was decidedly NOT another white man. You're right that "balancing the ticket" — or creating the most well-rounded ticket possible — is a common concern. That said, if the nominee is a progressive like Warren or Sanders, I can imagine a world in which they choose another fighter with a similar world view.

After all, as Warren just said in her most memorable and compelling line of the debate so far: "I don't know why somebody goes through all the trouble of running for president just to talk about all the things we shouldn't do and shouldn't fight for."


Do you think the format (1 minute responses, 15 second rebuttal) is adequate for viewers to understand the candidates' positions?

10 candidates on stage isn't optimal. You can get a sense of who these people are under this structure, but you can't hear the details. You're able to get a sense of whether someone is left or center-left on questions, but little more. For someone like Bullock, it's a chance to mix in a little biography and he's probably been the most effective in doing that. Others are doing less "bio" because they assume, mostly rightly, that they're well-known.

Dave, you said earlier tonight that Tim Ryan's campaign is on the rocks, in need of a bounce. Is tonight that bounce?

He got the short end of the Medicare debate with Sanders; it's just not credible to most Democrats that Sanders would do something that hurt unions. But he was much sharper than he appeared in the MSNBC debate. The question is always: What will people remember? And he didn't use the stuff that's most memorable on the trail, his rhetoric about living next door to workers who've been left behind by Trump.

Ryan and a number of others probably erred by taking the premise of every "too far left?" question instead of diverting more to Trump.

I want to throw them all in a blender, then vote for the result. How would you combine candidates to defeat Trump?

Do we hear any notable differences between Sanders and Warren on health care?

I don't think so, and I wonder whether it's even possible in this format. (When you're getting interrupted after 30 seconds, you're risking everything by getting into the weeds.) After the last debate, Sandersworld seemed to abandon the idea of creating distance with Warren on health care. She's not as adroit as he is in defending a radical re-imagining of American health care, but she has the same position.

Beto O'Rourke needed a big night, based on many preview stories about this debate noting his sluggish fundraising and poll numbers. Is he having one?

O'Rourke has a big hill to climb.  As The Post's Jenna Johnson noted in a story earlier this week, he's trying to "remind Democrats why so many thought he could be a front-runner just a few months ago."   

That's a tough task for a two-hour debate, especially because he doesn't seem to be as assertive in differentiating his positions from other Democrats, specifically Bullock and Delaney.  

Who do you think is winning this debate so far?

Hard to say who is winning. But I will say John Delaney is getting a LOT more airtime than I would've expected - giving him several opportunities to contrast himself with the liberals in the race such as Warren and Sanders. 

Of all these candidates I personally think she's the one in there that could beat trump. She's like the wise aunt everyone goes to for help or advice. She seems the most sane one there.

Klobuchar is a seasoned senator who has a Midwestern, tough and smart persona (see her work on the Judiciary Committee). Your review is what she was looking for tonight, some notice amid the high-profile stars of the left in Warren and Sanders. Her main competition for that "Midwestern option" slot could be Buttigieg.

Dem candidates clashfest!

Candidates are trying to cram in as many thoughts as possible into each moment. It's like an annoying version of speed dating.

to that poster, democracy is messy, isn't it? But we need this exposition of all views, simply because we are a democracy.

He hit it on the nail with working on real problems. Warren bit back but he has a good point.

Delaney (and other candidates such as Hickenlooper) are hoping that there are more voters such as you. But it seems Warren's view has more traction, if the audience response in Detroit is any indication.

What no candidate can say, but kind of hangs over this, is that we *have* a president who made promises that his opponents called impossible. One: It was enough to win the election. Two: His entire re-election message is that he fought and (sometimes) delivered when other presidents hesitated, like moving the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and going to court over the border wall.

For a certain Democratic voter, it is definitely frustrating to think that they play by rules while Republicans get to swing for the fences; that was basically the point of Sanders's riff on how Republicans have "big ideas," just bad ones.

Sanders is asserting himself as someone who could beat Trump and waving off Hickenlooper's concerns about Medicare for All and how others would have  to "pick up all the pieces." Is this his breakout night?

Two things: I think Elizabeth Warren has picked up a bit of steam in the second hour, with a lofty call that Democrats should be aspirational, which also makes her a contender for breakout night.  

But it seems Sanders has crystallized an idea that he's been hammering on since he entered the race: that a lot of people now agree with the things he's been proselytizing about for years.  

I see this debate as a shout-fest, understandable but annoying. Also, I agree with the other comment that Bernie is getting way too much air time.

Senator Warren turned to Delaney and criticized him for his centrist arguments. Her strongest moment of the night, on a night when Sanders is also making the case for wholesale national change?

Agree. That was the first big moment — for anyone — that jumped out at me. And that is part of Warren's appeal. She's aspirational and she's a fighter.

Yes, though it might have worked better had she ignored Delaney when he came back at her, especially because she went back to the well on "sucking billions of dollars out of the system." (That repetition could have been risky if she'd been called out.)

Subtract that and she had the kind of knockout punch that Democrats want to see to convince themselves that a candidate is electable.

Although it is wonderful to hear compassion rather than reporting Trump's latest rant, I really think it's a waste of everyone's time to listen to five or six people who have zero chance of getting the nomination. When do these people disappear?

Maybe by the September debates

If it ended at nine...I would call it the Bernie Sanders show...he’s gotten the most talk time. Not happy with CNN

I like Sen. Warren but her position here re: immigration, although thoughtful, strikes me as out of touch with the majority (Non-Trunpian) view. That felt like she walked out on a limb in a way that Sen. Sanders doesn’t on healthcare.

She did seem to go further out on immigration than the other candidates on the stage - according to my notes from the immigration exchange, she appeared to be the only one who flatly answered "yes" when asked whether she would support decriminalizing border crossings. 

What does Pete Buttigieg need to do to break through in the crowded field? Put another way, what is holding him back the most?

His answer on guns was an example of how, for the moment, he is having to address issues in South Bend instead of just answering the policy question. He has given concise and clear answers on policy nonetheless, remaining mostly outside of the moderate-vs.-liberal riptide on stage.

Readers and reporters: If the debate ended at 9:00 p.m., what would the headline be? What would matter?

I think there wouldn't be an obvious headline. If I was on deadline to write a debate story, I'd be...stressed. Because this debate feels like a little of a mishmash. There were some interesting moments on policy and philosophical differences, especially on health care. But so far, I haven't seen a standout moment — a la Biden and Kamala Harris last time — that will catapult a candidate to the top, or send someone falling.

The biggest takeaway I have is that Sanders and Warren are being challenged, but not in a way that would throttle the race. "Sanders, Warren fend off centrist concerns on health care" would be my headline at 9 p.m. My subhed: "Biden goes unmentioned ahead of second showdown."

Delaney seems much more comfortable on this stage than he was in the first debate. How do you think the candidates are evolving in terms of their ability to get ideas across? One of the most veteran - Warren - seemed to stumble seriously when she found herself scolding a one-party crowd for laughing as she tried to push an anecdote.

Some of this is attributable to simple practice and repetition.  We see it in stump speeches often -- over time, candidates will crystallize  salient points or refine zingers. They also have the ability to go over their previous performances (with an army of staff) to  weed out weaknesses and intensify strengths.  That sort of goes out the window when there is an all-out fracas.    

Why are they not sharing the wealth on questions & mic time. She's being lost in the sauce. Not fair.

Her "yada yada yada" answer tonight drew some cheers and she appears to be at ease on stage as an outsider.

Nearly an hour in and no talk of the candidate who leads the polls, Joe Biden. Why not?

Most of the more moderate candidates seem happier with going after the foils on the stage with them -- Sanders and Warren.  I am actually quite surprised that Sanders has not gone harder after Biden, given their clash earlier this month on healthcare.  But perhaps that's because we was dealing with an onslaught about his medicare-for-all stance?  

Also, there's still time.  

As Cleve notes, the foils onstage seem to be more obvious targets — in part because it allows the moderates to offer a contrast with the more  progressive wing wing of the party, but also because it allows them to have an exchange with someone onstage. If you're looking to go viral — and just about everyone is — you need to have an authentic, compelling moment, and that's likely to happen with someone onstage. Also, could be a bit of a reflection of the fact that Biden is not quite the formidable, seemingly inevitable candidate he was when he  first announced.  

Bullock is nearly an hour into his first showing on the debate stage. Is he making inroads? 

Well, his opening statement said he paid close attention to the first debate.  Maybe he learned something.  He seems to be using a good chunk of his time to drive home the point  he made in that opening statement: that he is a pragmatic moderate capable of winning over Trump voters.  

His targeting of the Koch brothers, like Klobuchar's answer on guns, is an example of him signaling to liberals that he's not John Delaney (a strident moderate). 

He was very effective in turning a gun control round into a Steve Bullock round, by jumping in every time he could turn it back to campaign finance. If the debate ended now he'd have more real estate in viewers' minds than Ryan or Williamson. 

Please give your assessment on Klobuchar. She pushed the NRA first.

While Klobuchar isn't a Medicare for All Democrat, her NRA answer on guns is an example of how she still believes she can win liberal votes and not just be cast as another moderate in a crowded race.

Buttigieg is once again addressing racial tensions in South Bend following gun violence (a white officer shot and killed a black man). But he had little time to talk gun policy. Senator Klobuchar then takes him on a bit a minute later, going after the NRA. What do you make of this exchange?

It's a confusing primary issue because every Democrat agrees; this was one among many reasons that Eric Swalwell never took off. Smart of Buttigieg to emphasize that he wants more systemic change than anyone else onstage; the others, like Klobuchar, basically boil it down to "I'll get it done."

Warren had a good point on focusing also on visa expiration folks and such. Is she the first to mention that?

I can't recall how often it's come up in the 2020 presidential campaign thus far - but targeting visa overstays (which estimates show is responsible for roughly 40 percent of all immigrants here without legal status) has generally been a part of comprehensive immigration reform proposals. 

Who’s scoring points?

The Democrats are arguing more about whether to decriminalize border crossings than talking about President Trump and detention centers. The detention centers dominate the party's discussions on Capitol Hill, yet they're not at the fore tonight. It's an example of how these debates are a challenge to any political party. Even if you want to make certain points, the debate can drift away toward related but more politically fraught ground.

Are Republicans cheering these Democratic immigration answers because they think they can use them against the eventual nominee? 

It's definitely true that Republicans believe the smattering of raised hands in the last debate when candidates were asked whether they would support decriminalized border crossings can be used to the GOP's advantage. 


And it certainly divides Democrats. I point to this op-ed from former Obama Homeland chief Jeh Johnson in WaPo, in which he writes: "We cannot, as some Democratic candidates for president now propose, publicly embrace a policy to not deport those who enter or remain in this country illegally unless they commit a crime. This is tantamount to a public declaration (repeated and amplified by smugglers in Central America) that our borders are effectively open to all."

Jake Tapper keeps cutting candidates answers short . Isn’t that preventing real debate?

Well, there are a handful of senators on the stage, and trust me, they love to filibuster! It's a tough job - the moderators want to encourage debate, but they also have to extract real and substantive answers from the candidates instead of letting them ramble. 

Yes, there's really no other way to do it; you get rolled if you let them keep talking. Stand with Tapper!

Immigration is the second topic. The discussion is centered on whether to decriminalize border crossings. What have we learned from these answers?

Sanders mostly used the question to repeat one of his priorities from the trail: The hemispheric summit to start fixing immigration. (He also wants a summit and commitment to spending on climate change.) Warren clearly preferred to pivot to the Trump separation policy than defend the ins and outs of decriminalization. More than health care, really, this is the left-wing position that rattles people when they first hear it (hey, doesn't decriminalize mean it won't be illegal?) and Buttigieg did the best job swerving around it.

Ashley, you grew up in Maryland. What's Delaney's reputation back in your state? 

Bob, that's a good question and I'm embarrassed to admit, I have no idea. He was not elected to Congress until well after I left for college. But I did just now phone a friend — my mom — to ask her his reputation, and she also said she had no idea. Which, she quipped, "might be part of the problem."

Will the moderators ever let anyone but Bernie speak or was this just billed as a one-on-one CNN interview? So far they seem to be doing a terrible job compared to NBC.

Sanders is one of the political godfathers for Medicare for All so not that surprising to see him get time on that debate. He used that time pretty effectively tonight, punchy and engaged.

Why are they giving so much time to Bernie?

I think it's natural to keep pivoting back to him when we're still on the issue of health care and the moderators started with him on the topic. But this dust-up between Delaney and Sanders is an actual debate - enjoying it! Let's pop some more popcorn ... 

A Delaney moment? He's getting a lot of attention and because Tapper came to him first, he's coming across as the vocal moderate. Is this a problem for Klobuchar and Bullock if a former Maryland congressman is in the spotlight?

It seems the trio is fighting the same fight, trying to distinguish themselves from the more liberal candidates on the stage.  The more spotlight Delaney gets, the less there is for Klobuchar and Bullock, especially because the moderators seem to be trying to parse out the differences between Sanders and Warren.  

No question, just a comment: I hate this CNN format. The CNN moderator is heard more than the candidates, because he's always interrupting everybody.

I think CNN is making a very concerted effort to keep everyone to their allotted time, which is an admirable — and important — goal. BUT. I do think the rigor with which they're enforcing the rules, often cutting off the candidates mid-sentence, is not always appealing or pleasant to watch. And sometimes, I think the best exchanges are the serendipitous ones when a candidate or two get into a real unscripted back and forth, which can require some time to breath. 

Does Pete Buttigieg need to do something tonight to bolster his chances of truly entering the "top tier" of candidates? Could that something be to neutralize or eclipse Beto O'Rourke, without appearing too vicious in doing so (not an easy task)?

Buttigieg saying he has a "Medicare for All who want it proposal," which is an attempt to keep people who support Medicare for All from worrying that he's too centrist, while also reassuring centrists that he's not Sanders.

What is the logical need for the audience? If you count the time wasted, it adds up, losing crucial time for the candidates to answer adequately.

The clapping and other responses don't appear to be cutting into the candidates, who are talking over the applause (and occasionally each other).  Another observation: several candidates have said they use town halls to workshop debate questions, so this is somewhat familiar territory.  Also, just seems like it would be weird to have candidates yelling at a bank of television cameras.  

By focusing on health care first, rather than race and Trump, is this a boost to Sanders, who is most comfortable on this front?

Not yet sure who this back-and-forth benefits the most, but Buttigieg had a good line there about how Democrats need to just stop worrying about how the Republicans will characterize their positions. That seemed to get a good response at the debate arena in Detroit. 

Who emerged stronger or weaker out of this first back and forth on health care?

It's kind of a two-screen experience, right? Polling of Democrats finds that a majority of them support Medicare-for-all even if it destroys private insurance. Polling of all voters finds that they support a public option... and not much further.

If you listen closely to Sanders and Warren, and to some extend Buttigieg, they keep pushing past the question to attack the insurance industry. Everything that can be weaponized is coming from the other candidates and how they phrase the apocalyptic Medicare-for-All scenario.

Overall, Sanders, who loves debating this, had the most memorable answers about his policy. ("I wrote the damn bill.") Of the people who don't support Medicare-for-All, Hickenlooper and O'Rourke seemed best able to explain themselves without looking like attack dogs. Buttigieg's punt ("if we run on conservative policies, they'll call us socialists") was something that worked for him on the trail, and worked again here.

Listening to Bullock's answer just now on building on the ACA through a public option, I always find it striking just how much the Democratic Party has moved on health care in the last decade. Remember that the public option was considered the too liberal option for some Senate Democrats in 2009! Red-state and conservative Democrats such as Landrieu, Ben Nelson and Lieberman were certainly skittish about the concept.  

At least on this initial Medicare for All exchange, it appears they're on the same side, arguing for its benefits.

Yes, and Warren's swipe at Delaney for using "Republican talking points" was devastating. Democratic voters do not, not, not want to see their candidates making it hard to beat Trump.

Delaney made a strategic choice to become the "real talk" moderate, but Democratic voters, at the moment, simply do not believe that Warren and Sanders want to kick people off their insurance. The bill's text is clear, but there are not mobs of voters worrying about it.

As Sanders-Warren toe the same line, for the most part, you have both Buttigieg and O'Rourke talking about versions of Medicare for All that'd be a touch to the right of Medicare for All. Then you have Bullock moving a little bit more to the center, compared to O'Rourke. Activists will be able to glean differences, but I do wonder if most voters see much daylight among many of these positions.

Is this a different Bernie? He came out punching at a moderate (Delaney) with "You're wrong." Is this just Bernie being Bernie or part of his campaign's attempt to jumpstart his candidacy? 

I think it's more Bernie being Bernie - he can be a blunt guy, especially on policies he's passionate about. But it certainly was a way for Delaney, who has been struggling to gain traction in the race despite how long he's been in it, to try and get at least a little bit of attention by sparring with Sanders a bit.

I agree with SMK. Sanders relishes these chances to tell everyone that they're wrong. He's happy to punch from the outside and say: Look, follow your policies to their logical end, and you're doing the work of insurance companies and other big corporations.

This time around, candidates will be making opening statements. Who stood out? What mattered?

As expected, Bullock took his one chance and used it to smack around the left-wing priorities of Candidates Who Will Not Be Named, and Klobuchar took a kinder approach, emphasizing how she "won every place every time."

Delaney did name Sanders and Warren, which I really doubt is going to play as well; upwards of 75 percent of Democrats say they like both of them. Hickenlooper went after "the two frontrunners onstage." So, on the "don't commit political suicide" note, advantage Klobuchar and Bullock.

Did any of the moderates help themselves? Many Democrats are going to note that they went negative on their fellow candidates, then look elsewhere.

A few brief thoughts, in no particular order:

 Gov. Bullock was in a tough spot. It’s his first night on the stage, his first real chance to introduce himself to voters — and he was in the unenviable position of having to go first.

 Rep. Tim Ryan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg all made appeals that addressed Trump without being him, and made working-class Midwestern appeals befitting their backgrounds and states — underscoring the key groups Democrats will have to woo back from Trump.

 And both Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders made very forceful, energetic populist pitches that also went directly at Trump.


And with that, we’re off!


John Delaney came out of the gate swinging at Sanders and Warren -- the highest polling candidates on the stage.  Formger Gov. John Hickenlooper also took a shot at the pair, though not by name.  That seems to foreshadow what many of the candidates who are not polling or fundraising as well will do over the next two nights: Attack and draw distinctions between themselves and the candidates who are faring the best.  

Delaney is useful to both Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren tonight. Instead of taking on others with some centrist themes (Klobuchar, Bullock, Buttigieg, etc.), they're going after a wealthy businessman at the edge of the stage.

I remember listen to an interview with Mayor Pete B. when he ran for DNC Chair so he wasn't a total unknown like Andrew Yang. I was just curious if could explain why he did so poorly when he ran for DNC Chair?

Buttigieg's camp (and Buttigieg himself) often say they won by losing in 2016. He didn't get the DNC chair, but he built up his donor base and built relationships in the party that are still helping up these days.

Candidates are making opening statements. Who's standing out? What are you noticing?

Bullock’s statement stands out just by the virtue of his unique position in the field – the sole Democratic candidate who has won in a heavily Trump state (he won Montana by 20 points in 2016). He’s really trying to drive home the message that he’s the guy who can win back the Trump and Trump-leaning voters that Democrats lost in 2016.

Klobuchar talking up her union roots and Midwestern background. She argues that she's ready to take on President Trump. Brings up kitchen table issues and notably warns against Democrats making "promises," a nod toward Sanders and Warren. She's being moderate without saying the word moderate.

Also interesting that Klobuchar was the first one to directly reference Trump's racist attacks as of late. (Yes, I'm aware we're not through all the candidates as of now)

Strong language from Senator Warren about President Trump in her opening remarks: a "disgraced" president whose policies have "kicked dirt" on many Americans. First statement is all about showcasing her ability to take on the president.

What camps will form on stage? Warren/Bernie vs Hickenlooper/Delaney?

Delaney just began by going after Sanders and Warren. First shot of the night at the liberal favorites at center stage. He's underscoring his business experience, casting himself as a moderate.

What exactly is the role of the DNC? Are they involved in messaging at all? Why are the Dems so bad at getting ahead of the Trump/Repub narrative? Why are they never leading the conversation, but instead always in a defensive position?

The Speaker is the party's leader in spirit these days and the DNC is,  for the most part, and organizing and fundraising organization. It's not dictating strategy for the whole party. Democrats are going to be led by congressional leaders and the eventual nominee. 

I like Beto O'Rourke, but being on TV isn't his strongest suit which doesn't deter me. The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, etc... have all run the "do I trust the polls or my own eyes" piece where the reporter goes into the field and see he does have a political talent for connecting and there is an interest in his candidacy out there since people show up.

Are you satisfied, generally, with the quality and relevance of questions asked of the candidates? And do these lines of quizzing improve the chances of selecting the single individual most capable of defeating President Trump in the general election?

I know CNN has said that tonight, unlike the in the first set of debates, there will be no questions that require candidates to raise their hands (or not), or give one-word (think "yes" or "no") answers. But I'm going to go against conventional wisdom here and say: Sometimes I like those questions! They absolutely don't allow for nuance, which is one of the fair complaints. But sometimes, they force a politician to take a stance on an issue, rather than pontificating and obfuscating and generally doing their politician thing and never actually giving a clear, definitive answer. So, if you asked this live chat, by a show hands, should there be these sorts of gimmicky questions... I would raise my hand.

Who is screening these questions?  Some faceless editorial board, or the reporters?

Hi, the reporters are all looking at the questions, in addition to three editors. 

Again, the Democratic Party seems to be trying to herd the Democrats like myself to be less to the left. They tried that last time, and while we had interference, I was begrudgingly voting for Hillary, as she is Republican Light. Part of the reason we got Trump. Are the Democratic Party Leaders ever going to actually listen to their members?

Does the road to a win in 2020 go directly through Michigan and the upper Midwest? If so...how come the candidates aren't spending any time here? Iowa, Iowa, Iowa...I mean....just stop in and say hello once in awhile. Am I right?

We love your questions! Keep 'em coming! So many good ones. The ones we love, or sharp observations, may be published by us. Thanks so much for joining us for debate night. 

Dave and Cleve, what's it like around the Fox Theatre? What's your read on the scene?

(I actually went to look outside to answer this.  So thanks for the exercise.)  At the moment, it's empty.  Pre-debate festivities started around 7, so most folks are inside.  The city of Detroit has cordoned off a few blocks around the debate area, only letting in people who have credentials or tickets, so the mounted policemen and their horses pretty much have the street to themselves.  Some protesters have gathered outside the barrier (Some were Trump supporters, others had t-shirts that said "tax the rich.")  And there is a mostly-empty parking lot full of media trucks.  And of course there is a large contingent of police.  

But go a few blocks in either direction (like the Coney Island stand where I got pre-debate dinner) and it's business as usual in downtown Detroit.  

Do think any of the candidates will try to own the racism topic or steer clear.

It may be a bit easier tonight for the candidates to concentrate on President Trump and race. Tomorrow, you'll have VP Biden there, likely facing questions about the 1994 crime bill and perhaps busing, again. 

It will be interesting to see what they do tonight. Some may think calling out Trump on his recent spate of racist and racially charged tweets and comments is good politics. But I don't think it's that clear cut. My colleague Tolu Olorunnipa and I wrote a story this weekend about how Trumpworld believes these sorts of appeals may actually help him turnout a certain segment of the electorate. 

Assume Biden at the top. Who is his most likely VP choice?

One of the most consistent things I hear from voters, whether or not they support Biden, is that if he's the nominee he must pick a female veep; ideally, a woman of color. The Stacey Abrams float from a few months ago was pretty clumsy but that's a name I've heard ordinary Democratic voters give. Her, and Kamala Harris, even after the last month. It's unthinkable to them that he would choose a white man.

Part of this is that many Democrats are proud of having nominated the first black and first female candidates, and consider the "white guy" the safest choice because *other* voters will like him. Biden would turn 80 if he won the presidency, which would lead to tons of speculation about his successor. You hear this a lot: "We need to get things back to normal, then we can have change."

Whether it's Biden or someone else, there could be a lot of pressure to nominate the person who's the runner up. If Senator Warren comes close to beating Biden, but he wins the nomination, you'll see a lot of calls for her to be on the ticket. Democrats remember how some Sanders voters stayed home in 2016 and weren't enthused about the Kaine pick, so keeping base voters excited will be a factor.

When will we get down there five or six candidates? I’m a life long Democrat, I remember Watergate. I’m exhausted!

Maybe sooner than you'd think! Remember, the criteria to qualify for the third debate in September is much stricter. I would expect the field to winnow down, perhaps dramatically - particularly because of the requirement of 130,000 unique donors. 

My colleagues Annie Linskey and Michael Scherer predicted earlier this month that tonight/tomorrow's debates could be the last for as many as half of the candidates. 

When you as reporters talk to undecided Democrat primary voters, are people looking for specific policies (Medicaid for all, immigration, etc.) or an overall sense that a candidate can beat Trump in the general election?

Much more the latter. This has been, I think, an unhappy surprise for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Polls show that majorities or super-majorities of Democratic voters agree with him on issues, but the perception that Joe Biden is more electable than him has not cracked.

I also find that voters who say they support "Medicare for All" or some other liberal policies are pretty flexible on how it should be handled. Yesterday I talked to a bunch of people who had shown up for Elizabeth Warren in Toledo... and when I asked what they thought of her health care plan, they couldn't define it. I wasn't trying to "gotcha" them, I just had a hunch that they liked Warren because they thought she was the most effective communicator, not because she checked off the ideological boxes.

As of right now, eight candidates have met the more stringent requirements for the next round of debates in September; four of them are on tonight and four tomorrow night. Do you think that will be a factor tonight and tomorrow night? I do. I'm predicting the "innies" will attack Trump, and the "outies" will be the ones taking shots at other Dems...

I do think that's likely a safe assumption —if by "innies" you mean candidates atop the polls and money, and by "outies" you mean those at the bottom of the heap. A Republican strategist recently told me he thinks the candidates who are most likely to be dangerous to their fellow Democrats — read: slightly unhinged, overly combative, looking for that viral moment — are those who started with high hopes and have plummeted to the bottom. So basically, if you're onstage tonight or tomorrow, be wary of the candidates who believe they're First Tier, but have somehow landed in the Third Tier. 

Many people have speculated that Beto O'Rourke's momentum stalled when Pete Buttigieg began to rise in the polls. Do you see them competing in the same lane?

They are definitely both seen as the candidates of generational change, although Buttigieg clearly has been more successful at building up support in the Democratic primary than Beto. But another factor to consider when it comes to Beto that while he was definitely a Democratic superstar when he was part of a binary choice against Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race in 2018, it is much different when Democratic voters have a buffet of nearly two dozen candidates to choose from. 

Can Beto translate the passion seen in his 2018 Senate race to the 2020 race? That remains the central questions facing his candidacy. He is well-liked in the party, but has struggled in the presidential race. If he doesn't pick up speed soon, expect Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call him (again) and ask him to think about challenging Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) next year.

Why have none of the Democrats running for President talked about support for child care? It is one of the toughest struggles families face, and crosses all political and economic divides.

A number of them have talked about it, actually! (If you don't see all of their remarks in between breaking news about presidential tweets, that's understandable.)

Warren was the first candidate to release a plan: Free child care for any family of four with total income under $51,000 a year. Gillibrand followed her, with a plan to expand tax credits so that 50 percent of $12,000 in childcare would be covered by the government.

These have both been big applause lines, but not very newsy; exactly the sort of frustration you hear from Democrats about how their race gets covered.

Robert Costa: Amid all the talk about protecting ACA have you ever heard any Dems concern about how the ACA requirements on business to provide equal benefits to all future-time employees is almost solely responsible for the Gig/Two-job economy? As a supporter of ACA I ask how can this critical issue be progressively addressed.

The Trump administration has been issuing new health-care rules in recent months, which Democrats see as an effort to undercut President Obama's health-care law. At this point, most of the Democratic debate in this race is about protecting that law or expanding health-care coverage through Medicare or Medicaid. The perceived Republican threats are front and center, rather than this particular issue.

Bernie Sanders was in the news recently because his campaign workers were complaining about low pay - less than minimum wage for field organizers. How do the other candidates compare?

Only a sampling, but if you scroll near the bottom of this WaPo story from July 19, there are details of compensation for staffers from the Warren, Buttigieg and O'Rourke campaigns. 

Which candidate has the energy and charisma to go toe to toe with Trump in a debate? Wouldn't you agree the Democrats need someone who brings more to a gunfight than a knife? We must remember, Trump plays dirty.

That's what these debates are for! (Allegedly). That said, I don't think we know yet what type of candidate is best to take on Trump. Do Democrats need a candidate with some of Trump's sizzle and X-factor and dismissive nicknames? Maybe — but remember Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried this during the 2016 Republican primaries, and it didn't work for him. Is the candidate best positioned to go head-to-head with Trump someone who is his total anti-thesis? Someone who is honest to a fault and never uses offensive language? Maybe. David Axelrod captured a bit of that idea in a recent tweet. We just don't know yet. And, obviously, it's up for voters to decide. 

Trump indeed does thrive when he can zero in on an adversary. This is why Biden emphasized from the moment he got into the campaign about his ability to take on Trump in a general election (although now, we see he is focusing more on a handful of his primary challengers) and you're hearing from more Democrats, including Kamala Harris, about their ability to do the same. Harris debuted one of her toughest attack lines against Trump shortly after her breakout moment in the first Democratic debates, when she declared in Iowa that Trump is a "predator." 

There is constant discussion among Democrats about the risk of impeaching Donald Trump. But what we don't hear are the risks of *not* impeaching him. What do you think they are, and how important do you think they are?

What Democrats usually say is that not doing anything will send the message that a president can get away with bad behavior and call the opposition's bluff if they try to impeach him. When Warren endorsed impeachment (she was the first 2020 Democrat to do so) she said that "There is no political inconvenience exception to the Constitution." Basically, if you play it "safe" then you tell some future president, perhaps even her, that there's no consequence if a president breaks the law.

Since the Democrats aren't in the White House, Speaker Pelosi is the party leader. Few people are comfortable challenging her directly on strategy. But since that's the dynamic, there is a possible opening for a candidate to be the "impeachment candidate" who breaks with Pelosi and others and tries to steer the party in that direction.

Which candidate is going to be grilled on their past records on policy?

If I had to guess - I would pick the candidate with the lengthiest record in public service, which is Sanders (He has served in Congress, first in the House and now in the Senate, since 1991). Some potential targets: Sanders' vote in favor of the 1994 crime bill that has caused so many headaches for Biden (here's a primer from Vox) and gun policy, as someone who hails from a rural state (here's an example of the questions Sanders had to answer in a debate during the 2016 campaign)

Buttigieg's experience in South Bend could be a factor. While he addressed the racial issues in the city at the last debate, following a white police officer shooting and killing a black man, it has not faded away as an issue that raises questions about his tenure. It'll be interesting to see if he is a target as race is discussed or if his rivals instead focus on the president. 

Some candidates have already laid the groundwork for attacks on Joe Biden's record.  Sen. Kamala Harris's polling and fundraising bumps after the first debate showed that there is potential gain going after Biden, and other candidates could easily follow suit.  And Sen. Cory Booker has also clashed with Biden in recent weeks, calling him "an architect of mass incarceration," which seems like an effort to pull black voters away from Biden.   

Congressional reporters say that Ryan has a charisma greater than many other candidates and he does well in some of the cattle calls. Sometimes it feels like he and Andrew Yang are running in a different (and potentially more important) primary about economic change. Unfortunately, he struck out last debate. Is there any hope for Ryan's message?

Having seen Ryan on the trail, he's definitely impressed people at some cattle calls, especially labor union events; his style is what we usually call "scrappy." If you Benjamin Button'd Joe Biden for 30 years you could come out with someone like Ryan.

His best chance to break out might come if it seems that moderators are asking too many picayune ideological questions and he butts in to talk about trade, wages, and Trump breaking his promises to workers. That's kind of what he's done on the trail.

What is Marianne Williamson's strategy or end goal at this point? What is she hoping to gain throughout this process? Lower tiered candidates might be vying for cabinet positions; what is MW's actual goal here?

I think attempting to know someone's internal motivation might be beyond the scope of our journalistic abilities.  But Holly Bailey spent some time with Williamson and took a deep look at her campaign.  In May, Bailey wrote: "[Williamson] felt it was worth the risk to spread a message that she says should be the Democrats’ answer to President Trump: A country riven by anger and anxiety needs a spiritual awakening led by a serious thinker who knows how to heal emotional hurt."  

Williamson has also told voters that she felt "called" to launch a bid. 

She's getting attention and remains on the stage. As a longtime author and speaker, that doesn't hurt her public profile. And in a world where norms are shattered in American politics, I don't rule anyone out. She has a steep climb, but President Trump is in the White House and a testament to how celebrity has power even if you have little to no political experience. 

What is the best strategy for Elizabeth Warren tonight? Offense? Defense? Middle of the road?

Warren's poll numbers and favorables have been going up since the last debate, when she didn't go on offense at all. I would be surprised if she goes on offense against anyone onstage; if she attacks, it'll be a counterpunch against one of the moderates who wants to disqualify her.

But how hard to punch? In a multi-candidate race, this is tricky. If Warren sat back and let Sanders defend the policies they both agree on, with no backup, she could raise some questions about how she'd take on Trump in a debate. (I read Trump's strange insult of her, as "skinny," as a way to envision him looming over her.) If Sanders came off as too shrill, then it would probably hurt him, and send some soft voters looking again at Warren.

This could be a significant evening for her. If Senator Sanders doesn't make gains, you could see her continue to consolidate liberal support in the party. She's been making strides, so it's hard to see her on the offense or taking on Sanders in a major way. Her allies tell me she's right where she wants to be, but wouldn't mind another "persist"-type moment that'd further bring liberals to her camp.

Why not focus on how and why you can beat Trump in 2020 rather than attack each other which just gives him more ammunition for over a year to falsify and tweet?

This is a great question. Part of the reason the Democrats will likely go after each others tonight (and tomorrow night) is because — as I believe Bob said in another answer — they are under tremendous pressure, especially the second and third tier ones, to have a viral moment. And that often comes by debating the people onstage next to them. That said, this a question the Democratic electorate cares a lot about: Who is best to beat Trump. So the candidates are facing a tricky balance between juggling Trump Fatigue — and an impulse we're seeing to try to ignore him and not respond to every tweet and taunt — but also working to prove that they are well-equipped to beat him on Election Day. 

Who's going to drop out after this debate? Early predictions abound, but what's your best guess?

Candidates usually drop out because they can't afford to stay in the race. So a lot of those decisions end up being fundraising decisions. But if anyone feels pressure tonight, among the bigger names, it's probably Beto O'Rourke, as Jenna Johnson documents here.

Many eyes are on Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who raised less than $1 million as a candidate so far and who needs to decide by early December whether to run again for his House seat. (As I wrote recently in the Trailer, this was why Eric Swalwell quit.)

The caveat: Ryan has really thrown himself into this thing, and actually won endorsements from two former Biden supporters last week.

We might not see a drop-out right after the debates, but the candidates to watch are the ones who have no shot of qualifying for the September debate; they need to get 130,000 donations and poll at or above 2 percent at least four times. That's everyone not onstage, and it's also Ryan, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Marianne Williamson, Steve Bullock, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Tulsi Gabbard, and Julián Castro. So... one of them.

Why is it that none of the candidates are calling for Democratic House members to obtain and publish Donald Trump’s New York tax returns?

Most Democratic contenders support the efforts of House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal, who is an ally of Speaker Pelosi. He is pursuing the president's financial information.

How old is too old to be entering the presidency?

Interestingly, there is no age ceiling to inhabit the Oval Office, but there is an age floor — you have to be at least 35 to become president. That said, voters often consider a candidate's age, among other factors, when deciding who to vote for. And it's certainly something Trump is already trying to use to his advantage. Those attacks on "Sleepy Joe" Biden, and quips that Biden just seems to have lost a step, are the president's barely veiled digs that Biden is, as you say, "too old to be entering the presidency."

What is each candidates policy on immigration? Should they come in legally or illegally?

My favorite policy area! Here's a great graphic from the Post that details where the 2020 Democratic candidates stand on immigration issues. 

Why do candidates feel that attacking other Democrats is more productive than attacking Trump?

There is so much pressure on the candidates who are stuck in the 1-percent range to get some traction by punching up. It's not that they're trying to attack other Democrats because they like it -- they're trying to survive, politically. 

When will candidates talk more about improving our credibility and standing in the world and focus on making things better after trump

Many candidates already have this issue baked into their stump speeches.  I think Joe Biden even includes the phrase "improve our standing in the world" or something similar in his words to voters.  And Sen. Cory Booker also talks about elevating the conversation.  Sen. Amy Klobuchar has talked about not conducting "foreign policy by tweet."  But they're not exceptions in this situation. Every candidate I've heard has talked about how he or she would be a contrast to Trump's governing style -- even if they don't always mention the President by name.  

One of the pressing questions facing Democrats is: What is their vision on foreign policy? We are watching a self-defining nationalist in the White House rewrite GOP foreign policy on big issues like trade, relations with the European Union, Saudi  Arabia, etc. Do they want to return to Obama-style mainstream Democratic foreign policy views? Or do they want to borrow some of Trump's nationalistic instincts and build a new Democratic worldview?

How long before the field sees a breakout challenger to Biden? And how long before Bernie quits?

Senator Harris "broke out" politically during the first round of debates, in terms of critiquing Biden and elevating her presence in the field and in the polls. But she's not on stage tonight. The related question I have is: Who from tonight's stage will effectively raise their profile in this race? Could it be Buttigieg after a tough stretch in his city where he has dealt with racial issues? Or, it could be Warren or Sanders doing more to cement their status as liberal favorites.

To your second question, about when Sanders would quit: His answer is going to be "after two terms of a successful presidency." The political answer is that there will be pressure on him to quit if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively a state he lost by a handful of votes and a state he won by a landslide. 

After the long-term primary debacle of 2016 (which many Democrats still re-live all the time), I doubt you'd see official, establishment pressure on Sanders to leave. If he ran behind Elizabeth Warren you'd likely see calls on Sanders to quit and endorse her, like the one Splinter's Hamilton Nolan pre-emptively wrote this month. (Nolan called on either Warren or Sanders to quit if the other one beat them.)

Does Steve Bullock have a chance to make some inroads with more moderate Democrats, or does the glut of moderates in this debate (Klobuchar, Hickenlooper etc) crowd his message out?

It's a good question because the "moderate" vote has not been moving away from Biden toward moderate candidates.

For a long time, the theory was that a moderate "lane" would be open to several candidates, and if Biden slipped (which he did last month) then someone like Klobuchar or Delaney would benefit. 

It turned out that voters were less focused on ideological "moderation" than on whether the candidates seemed "electable," which is even harder to define than ideology! So Bullock's clear play here is to hammer home, again and again, that he won in a red state with Trump on the ballot, and nobody else did; that is more compelling, goes the theory, than Klobuchar boasting about her big blue state margins.

Bullock has to do more than be a "moderate" tonight; he has to introduce himself to the Democratic Party. Unlike the others, he hasn't been on the debate stage before and he's not a regular on television. It'll be interesting to see how he blends in his biography, if at all, in addition to whatever points he makes on policy.

But being a moderate in the Democratic Party in 2019 isn't easy when so much of the energy is on the left. An example of this is Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor, who is on CNN tonight as a commentator because he chose to stay out of this crowded contest.

The Democratic party is largely an urban party yet no candidates have attempted to bring up the plight of our cities---impossibly inflated rents, lack of housing, infrastructure, transportation. Not this cycle, not in the last, or in the one before that. It's the party afraid of putting off voters in the suburbs, or in fly over states? Given Trump's recent vilification of one of our greatest cities, isn't it about time that the party begins to address the problems of NY, LA, Boston, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Sam Diego, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, et al? Since we support the party, don't we deserve the attention?

Several of the  candidates -- N.Y. Mayor Bill De Blasio, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Gov. John Hickenlooper (who used to be mayor of Denver) and Sen. Cory Booker, who used to be mayor of Newark -- have touted their executive experience leading cities.  And even candidates who are making an explicit appeal to rural Iowa voters, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, have included policy proposals that include addressing the problems of big cities.  That said, I think part of what your question gets at is the influence of Iowa, South Carolina and other rural states on the early primary calendar.  Candidates in those states are definitely going to lean into questions about issues that affect those people.  

To build on Cleve's points, there are some tensions in the party about having Iowa and New Hampshire have such influence in a party that is increasingly diverse. That's why the South Carolina primary is likely to have significance next year. Its primary voters are majority African American and provide a contrast to Iowa and New Hampshire ahead of Super Tuesday as the party figures out who's best positioned to take on Trump.

Will Elizabeth Warren distance herself from the concept of socialism by explaining to the audience the differences between Bernie Sanders's Democratic Socialism and her heavily regulated capitalism? I think it would be enlightening for the audience.

I think that is certainly the contrast that Warren will want to make tonight, which is really the first opportunity that voters have to see the two candidates - who are often described as being in similar lanes - head to head with one another. As you mention, Warren has emphasized that she is a capitalist while Sanders has been an ardent advocate of his views on democratic socialism (my awesome colleague Sean Sullivan has a good piece on that here) and Democrats are well aware that Republicans, writ large, are eager to tag Dems and their candidates with the "socialist" label because they see it as a major political advantage for the GOP next year. 

I also think Warren has a special talent for communicating concepts that can be a bit amorphous to a broader audience, so I think she'll really want to make that vision clear tonight if she gets the opportunity. 

Senator Warren echoes Senator Sanders on many issues, and vice versa. But she's careful to not define herself as a Democratic socialist, like Sanders. She is a Democrat whose politics are anti-establishment and populist on finance and consumer issues, in particular. Her allies tell me this distinction, and the fact that she can rally over Democratic socialists but not be one by name, would enable her to be an effective nominee.

Bernie is falling behind in the polls, what is his best strategy tonight? Offense? Defense? Middle of the road? Thank you :0)

It's hard to see how Senator Sanders modulates his message at all. He is one of the most consistent politicians in the nation. That said, he will be on stage next to his biggest rival for support in the liberal wing of the party. Look for him to underscore his record and how he has led on these issues for years. 

To date media coverage is overwhelmingly sensationalist and about reactions to the latest tweet storm. Why (and how) can’t the media move towards providing the electorate with real and factual content that will inform rather than provoke and entertain. Thanks A suffering and frustrated centrist

I'd invite you to read some of our coverage.  Several of us have spent days and weeks in pivotal states, taking a deep dive into a variety of issues.  One of the stories I'm proudest of is a look at the intersection of manners, black voters and South Carolina. And my colleague Sean Sullivan wrote about Bernie Sanders's staffers' complaints that their pay doesn't match his campaign rhetoric about a $15 minimum wage.  

Cleve is right. Here at the Post, we're working to provide our readers with fresh and informative reporting. One new project I'm involved with is "The 2020 Candidates" series for Washington Post Live where we have hour-long interviews with the candidates.

It’s debate night in Detroit for Democrats. Ten candidates will be on stage at the Fox Theatre, including two of the most influential liberals in the race: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Here's what I'm watching. 

1. Warren vs. Sanders? 

Allies of Warren, who had a strong showing in his first debate, tell me they hope she can continue to make inroads with liberal Democrats tonight — but not by knocking her colleague from Vermont. Could this CNN debate end up being a meaty, even low-key policy exchange among Democrats on the major issues facing the nation? It’s certainly possible with Warren and Sanders center stage, along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) nearby.

2. Could there be a moderate moment?

Klobuchar recently visited The Washington Post for a Post Live interview. Unlike Sanders and Warren, she does not support Medicare-for-All, among other liberal proposals. Is she willing to challenge her party’s leftward drift? Or, will she stick to her own more centrist pitch and avoid confrontation?

3. Will Beto break through?

What about Buttigieg and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke? They’re youthful candidates who have been calling for generational change. Could they get a new look tonight from voters? Can O’Rourke, once a liberal darling, effectively showcase the passion that gave his 2018 Senate bid a national following?

4. Biden’s not on stage, but a foil

Former vice president Joe Biden, who leads most polls, won’t be on stage tonight. But his record, from his support for the U.S. military intervention in Iraq to the 1994 crime bill, could still be a ripe target for Tuesday’s crew.

What are you watching?

In This Chat
Robert Costa
Robert Costa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post. He joined The Post in January 2014 and covers the White House, Congress, and campaigns. He is also the moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS and a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He holds a bachelor's degree in American studies from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree from the University of Cambridge.
Ashley Parker
Ashley Parker is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2017, after 11 years at the New York Times, where she covered the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns and Congress, among other things. Parker is also an on-air contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.
David Weigel
David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering Congress and grass-roots political movements.
Cleve R. Wootson Jr
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering the 2020 campaign for president. He previously worked on The Post's General Assignment team. Before that, he was a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.
Seung Min Kim
Seung Min Kim is a White House reporter for The Washington Post, covering the Trump administration through the lens of Capitol Hill. Before joining The Washington Post in 2018, she spent more than eight years at Politico, primarily covering the Senate and immigration policy. Kim is also an on-air contributor to CNN.
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