1st Democratic Presidential Debate Recap – Night 1

Last night marked night one of the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle. Ten candidates—selected at random from the historically large field—took the stage in Miami to share their visions for health care, foreign policy, immigration, environmental policy, and more. Didn’t get a chance to watch live? Read on for our recap and top takeaways.

The candidates:

  • Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
  • Cory Booker, U.S. Senator from New Jersey
  • Beto O’Rourke, Former Congressman from Texas
  • Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington
  • Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City
  • Julián Castro, Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator from Minnesota
  • Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio
  • John Delaney, Former Congressman from Maryland

The moderators:

  • Lester Holt, NBC Nightly News
  • Savannah Guthrie, Today
  • Jose Diaz Balart, Telemundo and NBC Nightly News
  • Chuck Todd, Meet the Press
  • Rachel Maddow, MSNBC


  1. Julián Castro shone. The former HUD Secretary came into the debate suffering from a lack of mainstream name recognition and polling at less than 1 percent. His performance in last night’s debate may have provided a momentum boost. In particular, Castro’s clear passion and in-depth knowledge of immigration policy had viewers taking notice. Additionally, he was the first candidate to bring up the Equal Rights Amendment and shine a spotlight on transgender rights. Since 9:00 pm EST last night, Google searches for Castro have increased by more than 2,400 percent.
  2. Elizabeth Warren came prepared. Warren has been leading the pack in detailed policy proposal and was the only participant in last night’s debate polling in the double digits. The spotlight was hers to lose, and she didn’t disappoint. Her frequent campaign refrain, “I have a plan for that,” came through as she outlined clear visions for healthcare reform and economic policy. She also tugged at viewers’ heartstrings with a poignant and personal closing statement and emotional response to a question about gun violence.
  3. Views on healthcare differ widely. Healthcare was one of the hottest topics of the night, and of the race overall. While every Democratic candidate agrees that some form of universal healthcare is necessary, there are clashes over what exactly that should look like and how we should get there. Only two candidates—Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio—stated that they would be in favor of completely abolishing private insurance in favor of a single-payer plan. Others, like Klobuchar and O’Rourke, made the case for a public option.
  4. Amy Klobuchar had a mic drop moment. In a night short on zingers, the strongest one came from Senator Klobuchar. When Governor Jay Inslee tried to position himself as the pro-choice champion, claiming “I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s reproductive rights…we have one candidate who advanced the ball,” Klobuchar shot back. “I want to say there are three women up here who fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she fired off, drawing cheers from the crowd and living rooms across the country.
  5. Climate change is a unifier. While the climate crisis received surprisingly little airtime—only about 7 minutes, according to Vox—the candidates seemed to be in agreement that urgent action on climate is a must. When asked what they saw as the biggest threat to the United States, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, and Castro all mentioned climate change. Warren and O’Rourke also received applause for references to green technology and funding for cities currently on the frontline of climate disaster. Here’s hoping that future debates will allow more time for candidates to delve into their policy specifics.

Night two of the first debate airs live tonight at 9:00 pm EST on NBC, and will include several of the race’s current frontrunners, including Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Kamala Harris. Tune in and don’t forget to join us on Facebook to share your reactions in real time!