Who won the Democratic debate
After suffering through the 2015-2016 Republican primary debates between entirely too many candidates -- relegated to a two-tier system consisting of “varsity and junior varsity” forums -- I was unsure how a field of more than 20 Democratic primary candidates would work this time around.
The decision to split the qualified candidates into two groups based on luck of the draw instead of rankings created an opportunity for the lesser known contenders to compete on the same stage as their more notable rivals.
Surprisingly, the tightly controlled format worked well. It was fast paced and engaging. It favored candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who excelled at articulating her positions with clarity, confidence and ease. Other standouts were Julián Castro and Cory Booker, whose campaigns desperately needed a boost.
Moderators allowed the candidates to have robust exchanges on issues of importance to voters like health care and immigration, which highlighted not only the differences among each candidate but also exposed the policy weaknesses of others. (Yes, Beto O'Rourke, I’m talking to you.)
Despite my considerable policy differences with all of the Democratic candidates, it was refreshing to watch 10, smart, serious contenders engage in an intellectual debate about substantive issues facing our country.
No personal insults. No name calling. No juvenile antics. It was a breath of fresh air.
The ultimate question is can any of them defeat Donald Trump in a general election? Based on some of the answers on major policies from Round 1, I’d say no. Good thing there's a Round 2.
Tara Setmayer is a former GOP Communications Director, host of the "Honestly Speaking with Tara" podcast and a CNN Political Commentator. Follow her on Twitter: .@TaraSetmayer
Only in the last 20 minutes of the debate did the question of impeaching President Trump surface. Former Rep. John Delaney -- who has been running for president since July 2017, the longest of any candidate -- explained why he and his fellow Democrats should not spend too much time on the issue. Based on his two years of campaigning, said Delaney, “This is not the number one issue the American people ask us about. It’s not.”
The polls bear that out. As Delaney explained, "kitchen table, pocketbook issues are what most Americans care about.” The moderators did us all a favor by pitching the debate toward real issues, not the daily chatter about the Mueller report and impeachment questions. There will be time for that tomorrow.
Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. Follow him on Twitter @Errol Louis
The Democratic debates seemed set up to be a disaster: Too many people on stage with too much to discuss. Instead, Wednesday night was a moment of hope in the midst of a deep political depression. Regardless of your political views, the first debate, featuring 10 candidates, was reassuring and even inspiring.
All 10 people on stage were (for the most part) cogent, competent, serious, and passionate. It’s a shame that the bar has been lowered to such a degree that “most of the people we watched tonight, all of whom are running for president, would probably do fine at the job” is a source of comfort, but here we are.
Comparisons to the current White House aside, the first Democratic debate showed that the party is both moving leftward and engaging seriously with policy questions. It’s easy to stand on stage and offer platitudes. What many candidates did instead was dig into the specifics.
On some core issues – a woman’s right to end a pregnancy, for example – the candidates seemed more or less aligned. But on other issues, including immigration policy and the best path to ensuring high-quality health care for the largest number of Americans, there were real differences. Debates on the question of how we get to our ideal endpoint, not just on what that endpoint is, are what American voters deserve.
The debate also did what few before it accomplished: It allowed previously underrecognized candidates to have their moments-- and may just catapult some standouts up in the polls. Most notable among them was Julián Castro, who has struggled to get traction in both coverage and support. On Wednesday night, he shined.
His answers on a series of difficult questions were among the strongest, most lucid and most progressive. Among the front-runners, I have some candidates I like better than others, but no strong sense of who I think would be the ideal nominee, let alone who would make a compelling running mate. This Democratic debate, finally, offered sharper distinction between the candidates, in both policy and personality.
And they brought good news: Just about anybody on that stage is already leagues more intelligent, capable and qualified than the current president. All we need is one of them to win.
Here's my ranking of the candidates' performance in the first debate:
1.) Amy Klobuchar
2.) Elizabeth Warren
3.) Cory Booker
4.) Tulsi Gabbard
5.) Beto O'Rourke
6.) Julián Castro
7.) John Delaney
8.) Jay Inslee
9.) Bill de Blasio
10.) Tim Ryan
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign. Follow her on Twitter: .@alicetweet
Here's my ranking of the candidates' performance in the first debate:
1.) Elizabeth Warren
2.) Julián Castro
3.) Jay Inslee
4.) Cory Booker
5.) Bill de Blasio
6.) Amy Klobuchar
7.) Tulsi Gabbard
8.) John Delaney
9.) Tim Ryan
10.) Beto O’Rourke
If the race were frozen in time and debates determined the outcome, there are a few candidates who helped themselves Wednesday night.
First, Cory Booker had a good night. He effectively weaved in his bio, his connection to the city he lives in and his passion for civil rights, gun safety and equality. He may not move up dramatically, but he is back in the game. Second, Julián Castro was on track to be an also-ran, but he came out strong, specific and passionate on immigration. That will stick out after tonight.
Finally, Elizabeth Warren may have been largely absent from the second half of the debate, but she was dominant enough in the first half and in the closing to keep her in the top tier.
Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki.
I had four quick reactions to tonight’s debate:
— I came away feeling the Democratic field is stronger than I thought. Several candidates on the stage could be credible opponents to Trump.
— I also came away thinking that Dems are more unified than I thought. Press reports naturally emphasize differences, but what came through tonight was general unity on winning back the working class, on climate change, and having some fresh ideas to replace today’s paralysis.
— Even though they had less air time than some male candidates, the three women showed how much better it is when women have a stronger presence. Elizabeth Warren was especially effective in her fighting spirit; Tulsi Gabbard's approach recalled the spirit of Nikki Haley. Among the men, Julián Castro and Cory Booker were strong throughout.
— It seems unlikely that we will see an immediate shakeout in polls, but the evening may prompt voters in early states to take a closer look at Castro, Gabbard, Booker and perhaps others. That would be healthy for the party.
David Gergen has been a White House adviser to four presidents and is a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.