Ten Democratic presidential candidates faced off in Miami in the first primary debate of an election cycle that will dominate news coverage for the next 495 days.
“No one’s voting for many many many many moons," MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace said following the debate.
Facing off in the first debate were New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (who is looking for a breakout moment for his stalled campaign), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The other 10 candidates — who include former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigeg — will take the stage Thursday at 9 p.m.
Here are some highlights from Wednesday’s debate.
Booker ended Wednesday’s debate with the most airtime among all the candidates, overtaking Warren, who dominated the first hour. O’Rourke finished a surprising second.
Booker also spiked on Google during the debate, according to Google Trends. But he appeared to be edged out by Gabbard following a heated exchange with Ryan about the need to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.
Despite holding a somewhat smaller presence in the second half, Warren was asked the first question of the debate, and offered the final closing statement.
“I am in this fight because I believe that we can make our government, we can make our economy, we can make our country work,” Warren said. "Not just for those at the top — we can make it work for everyone. And I promise you this - I will fight for you as hard as I fight for my own family.
Despite being the front-runner of the primary, not a single candidate on the stage Wednesday mentioned Biden’s name once.
“It makes 80 percent of the advance press coverage of tonight wrong,” said MSNBC’s Brian Williams. “All of us on our various broadcasts has guests for days who had been saying, ‘You don’t want to be Joe Biden. He’s going to be the invisible piñata.’ It didn’t happen, and it’s notable.”
Voters expecting to hear President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden mentioned heavily in tonight’s debate might be surprised by the number of times Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has come up.
The candidates were asked if they had a plan to get a Supreme Court justice nominated over McConnell’s opposition.
“I do,” Warren responded to the cheering crowd. But Warren didn’t offer a specific plan, pivoting instead to the need to mobilize the public against McConnell’s actions.
“Short of a Democratic majority in the Senate, you better understand the fight still goes on,” Warren said.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan also weighed in on McConnell, and also failed to offer specifics, saying, “If you want to beat Mitch McConnell, this better be a working class party." Booker said the way to defeat McConnell was to do well so well in the 2020 election that Democrats take control of at least 50 seats in the Senate.
“We’ve prepared for everything. We did not prepare for this,” Rachel Maddow joked before the debate was awkwardly forced into a commercial break at the start of its second hour.
President Donald Trump, who is on Air Force One on his way to Osaka, Japan, for the G20 summit, used NBC’s broadcast issues to once again attack the network.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar felt the need to weigh in after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee awkwardly said he was the “only candidate here who had passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health and health insurance... I respect everyone’s goals and plans here, but we do have one candidate who’s actually advanced the ball.”
"I just want to say there are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” Klobuchar said.
Both Booker and O’Rourke said they would hold pharmaceutical companies that produce opioids criminally accountable for an addiction crisis that has ravaged communities across the country, including Philadelphia.
“They should absolutely be held criminally liable because they are liable and responsible,” Booker said. “It is time we have a national emergency to deal with this problem, and make the solutions that are working the law of the land. And make the pharmaceutical companies help pay for that.”
“Despite what Purdue Pharma has done… they’ve been able to act with complete impunity and pay no consequences. Not a single night in jail,” O’Rourke said. “In my administration, we will hold them to account.”
Warren, the only candidate on the stage tonight polling in the top five, garnered the most camera time during the first 30 minutes of the debate. The senator from Massachusetts got the first question, and spoke twice before multiple candidates on the crowded stage had even talked once.
The amount of time Warren was getting prompted complaints from the family of at least one candidate sharing the stage.
At one point, Warren raised her hand quickly when asked which candidates would be in favor of eliminating private health insurance. De Blasio was the only other candidate to raise his hand.
“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren said. “Look at the business model of an insurance company. It’s to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums, and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care.”
Trump is watching tonight’s debate. He weighed in with a one-word tweet.
Searches for “podia” have spiked during the debate, according to Dictionary.com. Why? Because MSNBC’s Brian Williams used the term prior to the start of tonight’s debate.
Booker said there is “a serious problem with corporate consolidation,” touting a bill he has in Congress to oppose consolidation in the agribusiness industry. But it took Savannah Guthrie pressing Booker name companies he feels are taking advantage of the system.
“I will single out companies like Halliburton or Amazon that pay nothing in taxes, and our need to change that," Booker responded.
The debate got underway at 9 p.m.
One candidate who will be absent from the debate stage tonight and Thursday is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who failed to qualify according to the DNC’s rules. Instead, Bullock is holding town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire on both nights of the Democrats’ first primary debate bullock debate.
Speaking to reporters in Miami ahead of the debate, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez suggested Bullock would be on the stage next month in Detroit during the party’s second primary debate, which will air on CNN.
“Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Gov. Bullock is on stage at the next debate because he’s a great candidate who has a remarkable vision,” Perez told reporters. “You can’t change the rules midway because I like someone. I like Gov. Bullock a lot and that’s not a reason to change the rules you put forth and everybody follows.”
With 20 Democratic presidential candidates scheduled to take the debate stage the next two nights, it’s sometimes hard to stand out from the herd.
Ahead of tonight’s debate, NPR correspondent Scott Detrow caught the arrival of former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was reportedly asked by a member of the security staff, “Are you here to pick up press credentials?”
Hickenlooper responded, “I’m a candidate.”
Several hours later, after Detrow’s tweet went viral, Hickenlooper hopped on Twitter and wrote, “Last time, we elected the most famous candidate. Let’s try something new.”
In addition to the 10 candidates, the stage tonight will also be crowded with moderators. NBC Nightly News host Lester Holt will handle both hours of the debate, and will be joined by Today show host Savannah Guthrie, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, The Rachel Maddow Show host Rachel Maddow, and Telemundo’s José Diaz-Balart.
“We’ll have 10 Democratic candidates for office on that stage. Almost an equal number of moderators, but that’s a subject for another time,” MSNBC host Brian Williams joked during the network’s pre-debate coverage.