1st Democratic Presidential Debate Recap – Night 2

Last night, ten additional candidates took the debate stage in Miami for night two of the first Democratic presidential debate. Overall, the mood on the second night was more heated and cutthroat than the first, perhaps because it included several current frontrunners all vying for the spotlight. Read on for our thoughts and takeaways!

If you missed our recap from night one, read it here.

The candidates:

  • Joseph Biden, Former Vice President of the United States
  • Andrew Yang, Tech Executive
  • Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California
  • Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont
  • Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator from California
  • Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado
  • Marianne Williamson, Author
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
  • John Hickenlooper, Former Governor of Colorado
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator from New York

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. Kamala Harris ran away with the show. Senator Harris has made a national name for herself by being a tough, no-nonsense force during Senate hearings, so expectations for her debate performance were high. She blew them out of the water. Her strongest moment in an already good night came when she rebuked Vice President Biden for his record working with segregationist senators in the 1970s, and his recent comments defending that record. The breathtaking takedown included a moving personal story about Harris herself being a beneficiary of school busing, which Biden once opposed. Biden, who has been leading early polls by a substantial margin, seemed flustered by the attack and struggled to recover. There’s no question that Harris’s performance last night has made her a potential rising star of the race
  2. Generations clashed. In Alexa’s words, “Joe and Bernie just looked old and angry.” By contrast, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Eric Swalwell—who are 37 and 38 years old, respectively—tried to make the case for their youth. Swalwell shared an anecdote about then-Senator Biden visiting the California Democratic Convention when Swalwell was a child. According to Swalwell, Biden told the crowd that it was time for politicians to “pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.” Biden was right, Swalwell jabbed, drawing cheers from the crowd.
    Likewise, Buttigieg positioned himself as a member of a generation that will be around to see the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. He also managed to slip one of his favorite lines into his closing statement: “in the year 2054, when I’m the current age of the current President…” Buttigieg was by far the stronger of the two, appearing thoughtful and collected to Swalwell’s boyish and green.
  3. Bernie Sanders played his greatest hits. Senator Sanders’s rhetoric should sound familiar to anyone who followed the 2016 primary. The democratic socialist and independent senator spent the evening referencing powerful special interests, corruption, millionaires and billionaires, and the political revolution that he has long touted. Sticking with the familiar didn’t work well for Sanders last night. In fact, he often dodged direct questions, instead pivoting back to his usual talking points.
  4. Voices were drowned out. With a field as large as this one, it’s inevitable that candidates will get lost in the crowd. Last night, Senator Michael Bennet failed to shine through, as did entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Even Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has strong policy proposals and much more name recognition than Bennet and Yang, struggled to make her voice heard.
  5. Marianne Williamson had us scratching our heads. Comic relief came in the form of Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual advisor who gained recognition after several appearances on Oprah. She appeared so out-of-place on the presidential debate stage that it was almost jarring. Her most bizarre moment came when she addressed President Trump directly, promising to “harness love for political purposes.”

Thanks to everyone who watched live with us and shared your thoughts!