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- Night two of the second Democratic primary debate began with a bang.
- The stage featured 10 candidates, including frontrunners Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who had a number of feisty back-and-forths throughout the night.
- Overall, it was a rough debate for Biden and Harris, as well as candidates like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
- Meanwhile, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker had a strong night, as did Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
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Night two of the second Democratic primary debate began with a bang on Wednesday, as 10 out of the 25 candidates jousted with each other to pull ahead of the pack.
As the debate started, all eyes were on former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who memorably sparred during the first debate over Biden’s record on race relations and his praise for two segregationist former US senators.
But it wasn’t Biden or Harris who stole the show.
Instead, several candidates whose campaigns have been floundering in recent weeks used Wednesday to bring themselves back into the national spotlight.
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
Booker landed several zingers against Biden while also using his time to target President Donald Trump.
At one point, he slammed Biden for having his name "on every crime bill, major and minor," since the 1970s.
"If you want to compare records — and frankly, I’m shocked that you do — I am happy to do that," Booker later said, as the audience broke into applause.
When Biden pushed back and criticized actions Booker took when he was mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker again shot back: "There’s a saying in my community that you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid, and you don’t even know the flavor."
Later in the debate, Booker also ripped into Biden for repeatedly invoking former president Barack Obama’s name on the campaign trail.
"First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways," Booker said. "You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not."
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Wednesday was a breakout night for Gabbard, who has consistently polled near the bottom of the crowded Democratic leaderboard. She effectively used the night to boost her profile.
Similar to the first debates last month, Gabbard touted her time serving in Iraq as a member of the US military. But she also took a more combative stance against her opponents, namely Harris.
"Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor, and that she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record," Gabbard said during a debate on criminal justice reform.
"She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when asked if she ever smoked marijuana," Gabbard added. "She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way."
Harris shot back that she was proud of the eight years she served as attorney general of California, but she didn’t address any of Gabbard’s criticisms against her.
- New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Yang was skewered for his dismal performance during the first primary debate last month, and his performance on Wednesday was markedly better.
He ripped into Trump for running a "reality TV show" and for being a "reality TV show" president, and he criticized Republicans for scapegoating immigrants "for issues they have nothing to do with in our economy."
But whether Yang’s performance on Wednesday will translate to an increase in the polls remains to be seen.
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden took hits from all sides on Wednesday, and although the former vice president did a better job of defending himself and turning the fire onto his opponents, he failed to turn the conversation away from his weaknesses on issues like healthcare, immigration, and criminal justice reform.
- Sen. Kamala Harris of California
Harris went into Wednesday with sky-high expectations following her notable performance in the first primary debates last month. But her frontrunner status meant Harris also had a target on her back, which candidates like Gabbard, Biden, and others capitalized on.
Harris was particularly weak when she defended her spotty record as California’s attorney general.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
Gillibrand did somewhat better on Wednesday than she did during the first debate, but it’s unlikely her lackluster performance will boost her standing.
Still, Gillibrand landed at least one zinger against Biden when she called him out for publishing an op-ed saying that women who work outside the home are shirking their responsibilities, and that it could lead to a deterioration of the family.
Not a factor
- Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
Bennet was a non-event at the first debate. He was also a non-event at the second.
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Inslee’s performance during the first debate was much sharper than his performance at the second. He touted climate change as his main issue during both debates, but he seemed significantly less focused on Wednesday.
- Former HUD secretary Julian Castro
The expectations going into Wednesday were high for Castro, who was on fire during the first debate in June. While he did land some snappy one-liners on Wednesday, he largely failed to build on the momentum he had last month.
- 2020 Democrats excoriated Joe Biden for his record on immigration and for repeatedly invoking Obama’s name on the campaign trail
- Joe Biden got skewered for asking Kamala Harris to ‘go easy on me, kid’ as they took the stage for the second Democratic primary debate
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