The ninth Democratic debate, held in Las Vegas, Nev. this past Wednesday, proved to be one of the most electric ones yet. Headlines following the debate heralded Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s performance as historic, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s as historically disastrous, and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ as solidly commanding his position as the clear frontrunner of the Democratic primary field.
The lead up to the night’s debate was marred with controversy and anxious anticipation, particularly with regard to Bloomberg. A set of rule changes by the DNC allowed Bloomberg to qualify for the debates, which was met with ire from Democratic voters across the political spectrum. As expected, the night mostly featured Democrats exchanging attacks directed at the former New York mayor who has been capturing the fervor of moderate voters recently disenchanted by the field of candidates deemed not electable enough to defeat President Donald Trump in a general. Throughout the range of policy discussions specific to Nevada, an inevitable electability discussion, and back-and-forth jabs between candidates on their records on progressive issues, the debate exhibited the energy and division that has struck the heart of the Democratic electorate following the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
As Sanders surges in national polls—in large part due to his command of the vote of young people and the majority of college students—many University students loyal to the Sanders campaign were on edge watching the debates. Many students on campus also support Warren, as well as an array of the other top-polling candidates, which led them to avidly watch how their preferred candidates would fare in the debate.
“I think this was probably the most interesting debate so far,” Jack Ginsberg ’20 said. Ginsberg is still undecided about the primaries, but describes himself as a pragmatic progressive. “I think the animosity exhibited between candidates, especially the [Mayor] Pete [Buttigieg] and [Sen.] Amy Klobuchar exchange on immigration, really showed that there is no love lost between the candidates and they’re fighting each other fiercely whatever their ideological labels are. I expected people to be throwing haymakers at each other and so I was curious to see who would stay above the fray and who would get right into it, and I think Warren’s opening directed at Bloomberg really set the tone for the rest of the debate.”
Warren captured a lot of the most intense moments in the debate by going on the attack against a number of the candidates on stage, most notably, Bloomberg. Given Warren’s signature anti-corruption platform, focusing on corporate greed and malfeasance, many pundits and commentators going into the debate considered the multi-billionaire Bloomberg the perfect foil for her candidacy. After opening by drawing a parallel between some of the mayor’s past comments about women to Trump’s, later in the debate, she boxed Bloomberg into a corner over his extensive use of non-disclosure agreements to settle accusations of verbal harassment from female employees at his company.
“Elizabeth Warren definitely went on the attack early,” Ginsberg said. “She needed to reassert herself in the field because she is kind of getting lost in the fray, so from that point of view I think it worked well for her. Certainly, she came out of the debate as one of the most vocal critics of Bloomberg but Bernie and vice president Biden also went after him to smaller extents.”
Other students, irrespective of their individual candidate preference, found Warren’s performance in the debate impressive and agreed that it was probably her best debate night thus far in her presidential campaign.
“It was a brutal debate, but Elizabeth Warren really nailed it, even though I’m still supporting Bernie,” Saam Niami Jalinous ’20 said. “I had previously thought that pit head to head with Trump that she might be too laxed, but she really went after everyone and it was very enjoyable to watch, especially when she wrecked Bloomberg.”
Members of the Wes for Warren group on campus, one of the more active Democratic primary oriented groups along with Wes for Bernie, similarly heaped praise on their candidate’s showing in the debate.
“I think she did a great job of outlining her issues and her differences with other candidates,” Wes for Warren member Maya Gomberg ’22 said. “I think she specifically did a really good job of articulating the different approaches to the policy proposals contrasting hers with the more moderates most notably on health care.”
Coming off Warren’s disappointing fourth-place finish in New Hampshire, Warren supporters on campus highlighted the importance of this debate to garner a fundraising boost for the campaign.
“She’s raised five million dollars in the past twenty four hours since the debate,” Gomberg said. “She certainly needed to have a really good debate and that’s what it was. I think that she was on point with her attacks on Bloomberg and I think everyone else on stage agreed with her and it was nice to see that form of unity between the other frontrunners.”
The Wes for Bernie group also expressed their enthusiasm over their candidate’s performance, who has surged in the polls nationally and pulled out ahead in the upcoming Nevada and California primaries.
“I think it’s really clear that Bernie Sanders is the front runner, and I think he just shows the most command of his policies,” Finn Collom ’20 said. “He knows what he’s talking about up there, and I think it’s clear that he kind of knows what the attacks are coming his way from the moderate wing of the party because they generally have been trotted out now for weeks and weeks so it doesn’t really seem like they have anything new to throw at him. I think it just goes to show that I think there needs to be, at this point, a winnowing of the modern field because they don’t really have that many policy differences.”
Olivia Ramseur ’23 of Wes for Bernie and WesDems echoed similar reactions to Sanders’ performance in the debate, and specifically pushed back against the characterization by other candidates in the debate that he would polarize the American electorate.
“Pete called Bernie and Bloomberg the two most divisive candidates, and the moderator asked Bernie how he responds to the fact that the majority of the American electorate opposes socialism, and I think this narrative is just false,” Ramseur said. “Bernie responded by pointing out that he’s leading in polls so I think it’s misleading on the part of anti-socialist Democrats to paint him as a Venezuelan or Cuban socialist revolutionary. Americans like Bernie because they want aspects of socialism on a model like Denmark and Sweden even if they oppose authoritarian socialist presidents of the past.”
On the topic of Bloomberg’s first debate appearance, Bernie supporters on campus feel confident that Sanders’ narrative to uplift America’s working class will outshine the billionaire and former Republican Bloomberg’s bland appeal to older moderates.
“As a Bernie supporter, I’m happy to see Bloomberg get the attacks that he deserves for pushing these ads across all these states without getting the push back it warrants,” Bryan Chong ’21, another member of Wes for Bernie, said. “As someone who wants the primary to be as Democratic as possible, I think it’s important for all candidates to be held accountable for their past records so that the American people can be adequately informed about them and the debates a good avenue for that.”
With the Nevada primary coming up next Tuesday, it is still undetermined how impactful the debate will be on the undecided factions of Democratic voters.
Editor’s Note: Olivia Ramseur is a staff writer for the Argus.
Luke Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.