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Thursday Democratic debate: Who were the winners and losers – USA TODAY

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Much of the 2020 Democratic presidential field has now made its case directly to America.

The second night of the first Democratic primary debate came to an end Thursday night, with 10 more candidates seeking to grab enough of voters’ attention to help pave a path to becoming their party’s nominee and facing off against President Donald Trump. 

Here are the winners and losers for night two of the Democratic presidential debate:

Live coverage: Democratic candidates battle in second night of high-profile debate

Winners

Sen. Kamala Harris

Harris had her moment. Again. And again.

Repeatedly throughout the evening, the California lawmaker chimed in, laying out specific policies, such as repealing Trump’s 2017 tax cut. She commanded the stage, interjecting when her fellow Democratic competitors kept speaking over each other.

“Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight,” she said. “They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” 

More: Harris breaks up fighting during Democratic debate

She also set herself apart when she asked to jump into the discussion of race relations, reminding the moderators and other candidates that she was the only black woman onstage.

Harris’ big moment came when she took on former Vice President Joe Biden. 

She confronted Biden on his past comments about finding common ground with Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, who were Democratic segregationists. She said his comments were “hurtful.” 

She then noted that Biden opposed busing, a policy that Eastland and Talmadge also were against.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

Biden watched stone-faced as the California Democrat swiped at him. Harris gave Biden a chance to reply, saying “Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?” The former vice president got defensive and forcefully denied that he opposed busing. Instead, he said he had opposed the federal implementation of that policy and the imposition of it on local communities that did not want it.

‘That little girl is me’: Harris attacks Biden in key debate moment and 4 other takeaways

But Harris stood her ground and argued that preferences like that on the part of state and local governments were failures in the country’s quest for racial justice and that’s exactly why the federal government needed to step in.

Biden responded by touting his work on preserving civil rights. Yet, midway through his comments, Biden abruptly noted his time was up and stopped speaking.

Harris, for her part, drove her point home on Twitter with a powerful image. 

More: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris square off

The tense exchange created a break-out moment that was a victory for Harris as she seeks to remain a top-tier contender in a field of two dozen vying for the Democratic nomination.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Over the past several months since announcing his candidacy, Buttigieg has become a rising star in the Democratic presidential field. But over the past couple of weeks, the South Bend mayor’s campaign has struggled to manage controversy after a police-involved shooting resulted in the death of a black resident in the Indiana city.

More: Buttigieg becomes first openly LGBTQ candidate in presidential debate

Since the death of Eric Logan, Buttigieg has been criticized for how his administration handled the aftermath of the shooting and race relations in the city more generally. The police department is overwhelmingly white in a city that is 40% black and Hispanic.

But during Thursday’s debate, Buttigieg managed to turn something that has been a potential liability for his campaign into a moment.

More: Pete Buttigieg responds to diminishing diversity in South Bend police force

When asked about the lack of diversity in the South Bend Police Department, the mayor owned up to his failure.

“Because I couldn’t get it done,” Buttigieg said. “My community is in anguish right now.”

He went on to say that when he looks in the eyes of Logan’s mother, he has to face the fact that he can’t do anything to bring her son back.

Racial issues

Because of the moments and exchanges mentioned above, issues of racism, race relations and racial justice dominated many of the most notable moments onstage Thursday night.

From Harris’ tense confrontation with Biden to Buttigieg’s confessional acceptance of responsibility, race found its way to the forefront of the night’s discussion.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also brought it up, and criticized the country for not doing better at diversifying and implementing new training in police departments to prevent police shootings of black Americans like the one in South Bend Buttigieg has been trying to manage.

For his own part, Biden repeatedly touted his track record over on trying to preserve civil rights over his decades of public service.

Black voters proved critical to Democrats’ victories during the 2018 midterms. 

If Thursday night’s debate and recent discussion on and off the campaign trail are any indication, racism, race relations and racial justice will likely continue to come up throughout the 2020 cycle — especially in the most diverse presidential field Democrats have ever had.

Undocumented immigrants

President Trump’s key policy area also took center stage Thursday evening.

And the Democratic presidential hopefuls talked about how they will completely change Trump’s approach to handling the recent waves of undocumented immigrants.

In fact, they explained how they would introduce benefits for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.

Most of the presidential candidates said they would include health insurance coverage for undocumented immigrants in their health care plans and proposals. (On Twitter, Trump responded from Japan while at the G-20 summit with “How about taking care of American Citizens first!?”)

Harris also said on her first day in office as president she would make sure beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program — often referred to as “Dreamers” — are protected. She added that she would make sure their families are as well.

Wednesday night, former Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro set a new item on the Democratic agenda: Would his fellow presidential contenders join him in calling for the repeal of the federal law that makes illegal entry into the country a misdemanor? (Instead, Castro argued, entered the country illegally should be a civil violation, rather than a criminal one.)

Many of the candidates during Thursday night’s debate answered Castro’s challenge from the night before by saying yes, they would decriminalize illegal entry into the U.S. 

The discussion of these policy issues among Democrats during this week’s debate — and the response from Trump and the GOP — has taken place as the nation reckons with a searing photo of the bodies of a Salvadoran father and his 2-year-old daughter who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande River in South Texas. Also on Thursday, the Democratically-controlled House passed a bill to provide emergency funding to deal with the humanitarian crisis on the southern border.   

Losers

Former Vice President Joe Biden

The Democratic front-runner fumbled.

In a defining moment in the debate, Biden was called out by Harris for opposing busing decades ago, a policy she said she benefited from as a child. 

The former vice president defended his stance and tried to explain it, to little success.

Throughout the evening, Biden appeared to lack fleshed out policy proposals and often ceded the floor back to moderators when his allotted time to answer was up — even if that meant stopping responses mid-sentence. However, several of his rivals onstage Thursday night, including Harris, sought to complete their thoughts and make their points even as the moderators told them they had exceeded their time limits.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Since his 2016 White House bid, Sanders has been the ideological driving force behind many of the policies that much of the 2020 Democratic presidential field now supports.

Yet, when there were opportunities to lay out proposals detailing those policies with specifics, other candidates often stole the spotlight from Sanders.

On Medicare for All — one of Sanders’ signature issues — he was upstaged by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who noted that she wrote the part of the Medicare for All bill that would transition the current health care insurance system to a single-payer framework.

During Thursday’s debate the Vermont senator made the points he has been making for months if not years, but other candidates onstage often just did so more effectively.

Andrew Yang

No one expected Yang to make it to the debate stage.

But he did — and then he seemed not to know what to do with the opportunity to be on the same stage with members of Congress, a former vice president and a former governor.

Since announcing his candidacy, Yang has developed a devoted group of followers called the “Yang Gang.” But his own performance Thursday night lacked the energy his supporters have shown for him and universal basic income, his key politicy initiative.

He scrambled through explaining how he would implement his proposal to give every American adult roughly $12,000 a year as a government benefit.

Then he seemed to fade as the night’s discussion went on, hardly talking or interjecting himself into much of the debate.

Did Socialism lose?

And there’s one question that we will leave up to you, the reader.

Sanders has embraced the term Democratic Socialist.

But on the debate stage, he didn’t tout that label.

Hardly any of the other 2020 candidates wanted to touch the term. Trump has labeled Democrats as socialist, and used it as a warning to voters.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also tried to set himself apart by distancing himself from “socialism.”

But, at the same time, many of the ideas, policies and proposals that many of the Democratic candidates favor — Medicare for All, a single-payer health care system, free or reduced-tuitiion public community colleges and universities, eliminating student loan debt, etc. — lean toward socialism. Many of the candidates repeatedly laid out plans to achieve those policy goals, even if they differed on exactly how to achieve them.

So was socialism a winner or a loser?

Contributing: John Fritze, Michael Collins, Maureen Groppe

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