24° Good Morning
24° Good Morning

Democratic debate: Editorial board judges how each candidate did

The Democratic presidential primary season continued Tuesday night with the first debate of 2020.

For this debate, members of Newsday’s editorial board watched and evaluated each candidate’s debate performances and shared their thoughts here after the debate ended. The evaluations are not an endorsement of any candidates, his or her views or policy positions.

The field of candidates has shrunk to six. They had to qualify by raising money from at least 225,000 unique donors and reach at least 5 percent in four different national polls or 7 percent in two polls from early voting states. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren qualified. To follow all of the editorial board’s coverage of the 2020 election season, sign up for The Point.

Presidential candidates

Joe Biden

Former Vice President

Mark Chiusano: The vice president remained calm and only intermittently tongue-tied, meeting the bar for a front-runner.
Rita Ciolli: Biden continued his “been there done that, I have the experience” mantra. He didn’t seem to be debating anyone, assuming the mantle of the only Democratic hope.
Matt Davies: He’s still polling an affable front runner, but based on this debate performance there’s little evidence that he’s up to the demands of a campaign against Trump.
Michael Dobie: Biden was Biden, not always that smooth but reassuring enough to voters who want to be reassured. Strong and personal on impeachment.
Lane Filler: Biden had perhaps his best night and clearly is the only moderate with a chance at the nomination, which is not the same as having a chance at the presidency.
Randi Marshall: Biden was Biden, with no real surprises, no major flubs, but no major “wow” moment either, with his best answers coming on how he can beat Trump.

Pete Buttigieg

Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

Mark Chiusano: An interestingly un-combative night from the South Bend mayor who may think being nice works better now that he’s in the top tier.
Rita Ciolli: Buttigieg played small ball trying to win the Iowa voter, while claiming he was the best to compete with Trump in the outsider, religious/evangelical zone.
Matt Davies: Brilliant communicator. While the youngest on the stage, he has Clinton-era moderation, which may not be the way to attract Dem voters in 2020.
Michael Dobie: Whip-smart, as usual, but lacked fire — until he knocked it out of park with military/religion answer on taking on Trump, and finished strong with closing argument for generational change.
Lane Filler: Buttigieg never makes it clear what he’d want to do as president, besides being fantastically calm.
Randi Marshall: Buttigieg spent the debate trying to show America that he’s an experienced and knowledgeable leader, and had some of the strongest moments of any of the men on the stage.

Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator, Minnesota

Mark Chiusano: The senator from Minnesota seems to have gotten more comfortable on the debate stage but rarely grabbed the spotlight.
Rita Ciolli: Klobuchar’s performance was as flat as her accent. She had an multi-prong answer for every question, lots of details but no juice.
Matt Davies: Smart. Pragmatic. Good debater. And will continue to make an excellent senator.
Michael Dobie: Lots of folksiness, lots of stories, lots of “I’m the only one on this stage,” routinely blew past time limits and ignored moderators, but hard to say she really changed her calculus.
Lane Filler: Klobuchar gave her worst performance, with flatter jokes and bland policy points.
Randi Marshall: Klobuchar stuck to her spot as a moderate, but she seemed to be trying too hard, with too many one-liners and stories.

Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator, Vermont

Mark Chiusano: Sanders has the real benefit of having simple, forceful answers to the questions that come up in these debates.
Rita Ciolli: Sanders played himself.
Matt Davies: His positions in this debate were … reliable. He’s a rock star in an election that in this political era can maybe only be won by a rock star.
Michael Dobie: Being consistent usually is a virtue, but hearing Sanders be Sanders over and over is getting tired, especially when he won’t say how much his vaunted health care plan will cost.
Lane Filler: Sanders gave his most measured and professional performance yet. But why? Let Sanders be Sanders!
Randi Marshall: Sanders floundered in spots but generally held his own, staking out the position of the most progressive of progressive candidates.

Tom Steyer


Mark Chiusano: Those who spend evenings agreeing with people don’t tend to have great reasons for running.
Rita Ciolli: Steyer was always seconding someone else’s motion. With more face time, he still did little to energize his climate change agenda.
Matt Davies: Likeable billionaire with good policy positions, but not exactly sure why he’s still in the presidential race.
Michael Dobie: News flash: Being a world traveler doesn’t qualify one to be commander-in-chief. Started the night wondering why he was up there, finished it still looking for the answer.
Lane Filler: Steyer’s campaign is an exercise in spending a fortune to buy a few votes — and little else.
Randi Marshall: From the first question, it became clear that Steyer lacks the experience, knowledge and depth of understanding to become president – or even to be on the debate stage.

Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator, Massachusetts

Mark Chiusano: Warren’s strength is her confident if wonky monologues covering issues like prescription drugs, as she showed again on Tuesday.
Rita Ciolli: Warren answered the woman question by owning it. She messaged to women at every opportunity. She was lit.
Matt Davies: Powerful stage presence and command of issues. Like Sanders she has a message that resonates with real Americans who struggle.
Michael Dobie: Expected: That Warren would win the argument on whether a woman could win the election. Unexpected: That she would make the best argument for being commander-in-chief.
Lane Filler: Warren, a consummate debater, experienced leader and policy savant, won. She always does.
Randi Marshall: Warren owned the stage all night, from foreign policy to the discussion about whether a woman can be president, and nearly every issue in between.