Three Key Observations from the Fifth Democratic Debate

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On the evening of November 20, this year’s Democratic presidential candidates took the stage for the fifth Democratic debate since campaigns began. The majority of political commentators on both sides of the aisle have described the debate as relatively uneventful, but the event still had some important moments. Here are three key observations from the fifth Democratic debate.

1. It was Pete Buttigieg’s night

In recent weeks, Pete Buttigieg has made headlines for surging in early New Hampshire and Iowa polling. His rise was unexpected, as just four months ago, most polls placed him in fourth or fifth place behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The fifth debate was the first since Buttigieg’s polling surge, increasing the amount of attention paid to him throughout the night.

Toward the end of the debate, Buttigieg had to answer for his imperfect track record on two issues. He has long been faced with allegations that he has poorly handled race relations in South Bend, Indiana (where he remains mayor despite his intense focus on campaigning for the presidency), and commentators variously described his response to questions about the matter as humble or meaningless. Buttigieg currently has extremely low support among Black voters – very literally zero percent in South Carolina, for example – despite his recent polling surge.

Buttigieg more deftly fielded questions about his lack of experience. In response to a question on the topic, Buttigieg pointed out that the candidates beside him totaled more than a century of governmental experience before pointing to what he sees as the dismal current state of the U.S. He seemed to imply that prior experience isn’t as important as has long been thought, perhaps explaining the uptick in his voting.

2. More Biden gaffes occurred

Although former vice president Joe Biden remains the frontrunner among Democratic primary candidates, his campaign has become as known for its high polling numbers as for its numerous slip-ups. The fifth Democratic debate proved no exception, with a particularly striking mistake stemming from a question about violence against women. Biden said that his approach to decreasing violence against women would be to “keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it.” Critics were quick to lambast his word choices.

Additionally, Biden said that “the only African American woman that’s ever been elected to the United States Senate” has endorsed him. Fellow candidate Kamala Harris quickly countered Biden’s remark by saying, “The other one is here.” Biden then said he meant to say “first,” not “only.” Despite slip-ups like these, Biden has remained a leading candidate among Black voters.

3. Booker had an especially strong night – and he needed one

Joe Biden’s mistaken remarks about the presence of Black women in the Senate were far from his only race-related moments at the fifth Democratic debate. New Jersey senator Cory Booker took aim at Biden over the former vice president’s recent comments labeling marijuana a “gateway drug.” Booker reminded Biden of the racism involved with persecuting marijuana possession and usage, and the debate crowd reacted rapturously. Booker needed a strong moment like this one – at the moment, he doesn’t qualify for December’s debate.

What did you think were the most remarkable moments from the fifth Democratic debate? Sound off in the comments!

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