For all the problems the first Democrat 2020 debate faced, it appears to have helped two candidates – Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — and hurt two others — former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The first poll taken after the first set of Democrat debates (it was split into two because there are so many candidates) showed that Biden’s support dropped 10 points after the debate while Harris’ support more than doubled. She still trails Biden, but if she’s able to continue her performance at the first debate, that could change.
Politico reported Monday that political insiders now consider the Democrat primary “wide open,” after the first debate, following the strong performances of Harris and Warren and Biden’s weak showing. From Politico:
Biden, already damaged by his shifting views on abortion and his one-time work with segregationists, withered under Sen. Kamala Harris’ filleting of his record on busing for school desegregation.
Sanders committed no such error. Yet he was weakened by contrast — his forgettable debate performance versus the proficiency of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow leftist previously untested in a presidential campaign. She is slowly rising in the polls, just as Sanders — a rival for the progressive vote — is seeing his numbers tick downward.
Colin Strother, a Democrat strategist, told the outlet that, prior to the debates, “Bernie and Biden were largely living off of inertia.” Now that voters have heard from the other candidates on the national stage, voters can see that other candidates “have a lot of other things to offer.”
Rebecca Katz, a former adviser on Cynthia Nixon’s failed campaign for New York governor, suggested the debates showed “not only that women can hold their own, but they can smoke ‘em.”
More realistically — for those who don’t see sexism in everything — the debates proved that the “just not this woman” arguments against Hillary Clinton were valid.
To the Right, Warren and Harris might appear to be left-wing zealots, but they’re not seen as corrupt or as self-serving as Clinton was.
Politico also reported that Warren drew a crowd of 3,600 in Chicago following the debates — one of her largest yet. Harris, meanwhile, raised $2 million in the 24 hours after the debate.
Biden and Sanders still lead the pack. The Real Clear Politics polling average still gives Biden 31.4% of the support and Sanders 16.9%. Warren remains seven points behind Sanders and about five points ahead of Harris.
Of course, this is just the first debate. Any suggestion that the shift is permanent or that Biden is no longer the top candidate is pure speculation at this point. We’ve seen this before, many times. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was seen as the winner of the first presidential debate in 2012 against incumbent President Barack Obama. As we all know, Obama won re-election. Pundits declared Clinton the winner of the first presidential debate in 2016 (actually all of the debates) yet we don’t call her President Hillary Clinton.
Anything can still happen. Biden’s team may have learned what his weaknesses are and may be better prepared against attacks in the next debate. The candidates may debate against different opponents in the next debate as well. Perhaps Warren will shine against Biden and Harris, or maybe Sanders will suck up all the energy.