Here are the winners and losers of Thursday’s fiery Democratic presidential debate

Candidates pose before the start of the 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Houston, Texas.Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

  • 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Houston, Texas, on Thursday night for the latest round of presidential debates. 
  • All of the candidates were unified behind the notion of supplanting President Donald Trump, but the gloves came off on issues like health care and immigration.  
  • One of the biggest winners of the night was not on the stage: Jorge Ramos, one of several moderators, stood out with his tough, substantive questions throughout the debate. 
  • Candidates like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro were also winners with a number of standout moments. 
  • Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were in the spotlight early on when the focus was on health care, but faded as the night went on. They weren’t necessarily winners or losers. 
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner, stumbled over his talking points and faced some devastating one-liners from his opponents. He was the biggest loser of the night. 
  • Meanwhile, candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang struggled to set themselves apart. 
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The 2020 Democrats took the stage in Houston, Texas, on Thursday night for the third presidential debate. 

Unlike the first two debates, which took place over the course of two nights and saw different candidates on the stage each night, the latest round was a one-night affair. And only 10 candidates qualified for this debate, based on the Democratic National Committee’s decision to toughen the criteria to get on stage. 

Thursday marked the first time all of the top candidates — Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — faced off at the same time. 

While all of the candidates made it clear they’re on the same page when it comes to opposing President Donald Trump, things got heated as they sparred over the issues. 

But at the end of several hours of the feisty exchanges, Thursday’s debate had a handful of clear winners and losers.

The winners

Debate moderator Jorge Ramos was among the biggest winners of Thursday night’s debate, which says a lot about the tired performances from many of those on stage. He asked tough, substantive questions that put candidate’s in uncomfortable positions and forced them to address issues in a way that went beyond what we’ve already heard from them. 

Ramos, for example, touched on the Obama administration’s record number of deportations and asked Biden why Latinos should trust him. 

Ramos stood out from the beginning, delivering opening remarks in both English and Spanish, in which he offered a message to Latinos, “This debate is taking place at very difficult moment for Latinos in Texas and all over the country. That’s why it’s important they know that we know that this is also our country.” 

He also did not show a preference for any particular candidate, asking pointed questions of both moderates and those who lean more to the left. Ramos, for example, asked Sanders to explain why he’s stopped short of calling Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro a dictator, and asked him to explain what differentiates his democratic socialism from Venezuela’s socialism. 

Read more: Here’s the difference between a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Democratic socialist’

Half of the battle in debates is separating yourself from the pack and getting noticed — particularly if you’re not leading in the polls — and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro certainly succeeded in that regard with ruthless jabs at Biden throughout the night. 

Castro, who served in the Obama administration, went after Biden for leaning on former President Barack Obama’s popularity while rejecting criticism of his record: “He wants to take credit for Obama’s work, but not have to answer any questions!”

In another notable moment, Castro alleged Biden couldn’t remember one of his talking points about health care that he made “two minutes ago.”

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” Castro said.

Buttigieg was also a winner on Thursday night with his powerful and personal story of coming out after returning from his deployment in Afghanistan, which is something that’s never been seen before on the presidential debate stage. He used the national spotlight to offer the country a human moment, which is increasingly rare among politicians in the present day. 

The losers

Biden took a lot of hits on Thursday night, and struggled to land any significant blows in return. The fact he was targeted by other candidates so much was perhaps the only real sign he’s the current frontrunner.

Biden stumbled over his talking points and came off as far too old-fashioned. When Biden was about the about racial inequality in schools, for example, he trailed off into suggesting Americans should “have the record player on at night” to help kids learn.

Joe Biden on how American families should spend evenings:

“Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night.”

— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer)
September 13, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris had a solid first debate in Miami, Florida, that boosted her fundraising and elevated her national profile. But she’s been on the decline ever since. Harris struggled in Detroit, and that trend continued into Thursday’s debate in Houston. 

Harris started off fairly strong on Thursday, going after Trump and ending her opening statement with a joke that the president could “now go back to watching Fox News.”

But she attempted to force several jokes that didn’t land over the course of the rest of the debate, such as when she sought to invoke Obama’s campaign slogan in a quip at Biden: “Hey Joe — instead of saying, ‘No we can’t’ let’s say, ‘Yes we can.”

Read more: Kamala Harris says Trump reminds her of the Wizard of Oz: ‘When you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude’

Warren and Sanders, both top-tier candidates, were not not necessarily losers or winners on Thursday. They both got a lot of attention early on when the debate focused on health care, but faded from the spotlight as the night went on. Both will likely not gain or lose much from the debate. 

The same could be said of candidates at the middle of the pack like Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who had some strong moments on issues like criminal justice and gun violence, but seemed tired and struggled to set themselves apart on other topics. 

Meanwhile, low-tier candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang were almost non-existent throughout the night, despite the fact the latter literally offered Americans money at the beginning of the night. 

As the campaign season rages on, we’ll see fewer and fewer people on the debate stage. On Thursday night, we saw big signs of who’s likely to make it through the next round or two, and who will soon fall out of the race. 


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