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First Debate Candidate Grades: Warren Fades, Young Contenders Rise

Some quick thoughts on each candidate, with the obvious but necessary caveat that I disagreed with the large majority of policies and talking points espoused by the field. We'll begin with the candidates occupying podiums on the outside edges, then work our way toward centerstage:   


De Blasio: I did not understand the purpose of his candidacy coming into the night, and that didn't change after two hours.  His one answer that caught my attention was endorsing Mitt Romney's 2012 view that Russia is the greatest geopolitical threat facing the United States. D.

Delaney: A bit annoying with his relentless efforts to jump in, but several of his answers were quite reasonable.  This was especially true of his reality check on single-payer healthcare.  Because the so-called 'moderate' lane isn't terribly crowded, he may have helped himself. B-.

Ryan: His clarion call about the Democratic Party turning into an out-of-touch group of coastal elitists was spot on.  But the Ohioan didn't seem to rise to this occasion overall, appearing overwhelmed at times and struggling to give smooth and timely answers. D.

Inslee: Drove home his primary message (climate change) and took smart advantage of his limited opportunities to speak, often pointing to specifics in his record as a chief executive.  He was economical with his time, was focused, and seemed at ease.  A good performance. A-.

Castro: Scored some points against Beto, but often struck me as an ostentatious panderer.  I laughed out loud at his trans/reproductive justice answer, after which some home viewer must have shouted, "bingo!"  Nevertheless, as someone who has been a third tier candidate thus far, he got a lot of screen time and generally stepped up. B.


Gabbard: I suspect this will be a buzz-building night for the Hawaii Congresswoman.  She was composed and pugnacious on national security issues, leaning into her veteran status at every opportunity.  She was also well prepared for the question about her change of heart on LGBT issues.  Despite my revulsion at some of her foreign policy views: B+. 

Klobuchar: The Minnesota Senator felt lost in the shuffle throughout much of the debate, but gave a smart answer on guns and delivered the strongest closing statement of the group. C+.

Booker: His cringeworthy pandering and try-hardism were kept to a relative minimum (by his standards, attempted Spanish aside) and he connected with the audience on several occasions.  If he doesn't get a bump out of this showing, that'll be a serious red flag because he had a good night.  Like Gabbard, and maybe Castro, he was one of the young risers in the field who overshadowed the 'top tier' candidate on stage. B.

Beto: Rehearsed, tired, unimpressive.  He's been floundering since his launch, and I don't see how this debate revives him. D.

Warren: The initial conventional wisdom was that she'd gotten a raw deal by being slotted in the first debate, without any of the other top contenders.  Then the consensus shifted, positing that she actually had a major advantage in that she could command the stage and shine.  She started out the evening by endorsing the elimination of private health insurance, ducked a number of specific and pointed questions along the way, then effectively vanished completely in the second half of the debate.  She's got enough support, especially among the progressive media, to bounce back -- but she absolutely did not feel like the star of this show. C-.


NBC: The technical difficulties were painful.  Many of the questions were sharp and smart and avoided.

I'll leave you with these two takeaway observations on substance:


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