The Corner

Elections

What You Missed at the Friday Night Democratic Debate . . .

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates in the seventh Democratic 2020 presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Last cycle, 253,062 people voted in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders clobbered Hillary Clinton by about 57,000 votes. Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicts a dramatic leap in turnout this year, up to 420,000 voters. (Then again, Iowa Democrats expected a big jump in turnout for this year’s caucus.)

The Friday night Democratic presidential primary debate had almost 7 million viewers nationwide, which is actually not bad for a Friday night. But it is also a fraction of the 26 million to 27 million who watched the first debates of the cycle. The question is what number out of that 7 million live in New Hampshire, intend to vote in Tuesday’s primary, and are undecided or persuadable.

If you didn’t watch, you missed Joe Biden trying his hardest to be feisty and combative. Bernie Sanders was particularly non-combative against the rest of the field, which is what you do when you’re now a serious front runner and will probably need to eventually win over the fans of your rivals. Pete Buttigieg had a generally good night, but he may have suffered some damage from some particularly tough questioning from ABC News anchor Linsey Davis about the increase in arrests for African Americans for marijuana after Buttigieg was elected mayor. Buttigieg initially tried to argue that the overall rate was lower than the national rate, but Davis emphasized that the rate increased after Buttigieg’s election. The former mayor insisted the arrests for drugs were connected to an attempt to reduce gang violence:

We adopted a strategy that said that drug enforcement would be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder. These things are all connected, but that’s the point. So are all of the things that need to change in order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism, not just from criminal justice, but from our economy, from health, from housing, and from our democracy itself.

Davis then set up Warren for an easy lay-up: “Senator Warren, is that a substantial answer from Mayor Buttigieg?” Warren answered, “no.” The racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests in South Bend will come up again — say, as the South Carolina primary approaches.

Overall, Warren had a quiet night early on but had a larger role as the debate stretched on into its second and (sigh) third hours.

The general sense was that Amy Klobuchar had a good night — putting the Minnesota senator in the odd spot of being something of a hot, buzz-generating candidate, after she failed to hit 15 percent in Iowa and isn’t certain to hit it in New Hampshire, either. This morning’s CNN poll of New Hampshire has her in sixth place, behind Tulsi Gabbard (!).

It’s fair to wonder whether the Friday night debate will have any impact. If it doesn’t, the candidates, their campaign staff, and Democrats across the country might fairly start asking which idiots at the DNC decided to hold a two-and-a-half-hour debate on a Friday night.

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