September Democratic Debates Bring Candidates to One Stage, One Night Only

Constance Wright, Contributing Writer

On September 12, ABC News and Univision sponsored the third democratic debate of 2019 at the Health and Physical Education Arena on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. In order to be invited to this debate, candidates were required to meet both polling and fundraising criteria. They must have at least two percent support in four different polls published from a list of approved pollsters and receive financial support from a minimum of 130,000 unique donors, with at least 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states by August 28. Only ten candidates made the cut: Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar. 

During introductions, Yang announced that he would be giving away $1,000 a year to ten families in order to pilot his universal basic income plan. He stated, “It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians. That’s why I’m going to do something unprecedented tonight.” Moments after, Yang quickly trended on Twitter with mixed reactions including comparisons to Oprah Winfrey’s legendary giveaways as well as head-scratches by legal experts. It was definitely something unprecedented in democratic debate history.

After each candidate’s opening statement, lead commentator George Stephanopoulos opened with a question to Biden about health care and how his plan differs from other top running candidates’ Sanders and Warren. This was the most heavily discussed topic of the night as it took up 21 percent of the time. 

While all of the candidates on stage are supporters of universal healthcare, they have different viewpoints. Sanders reiterated that he “wrote the damn bill” on Medicare for All, while Warren made the argument that M4A would let middle-class families pay less for their health insurance. Sanders argued that single-payers would cost less money than the “status quo,” while Biden hammered him on how he would pay for his plan and defended his own by saying it would give people the choice to keep their private insurance plans. Buttigieg sided with Biden, saying, “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them, why don’t you?”

Another heated topic of the night was gun control. The candidates all agreed on increasing restrictions on firearms to address gun violence. A memorable moment was when commentator David Muir mentioned Sandy Hook and how, “Those first graders would be in eighth grade today.” Another was when Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso whose hometown was the site of a racially motivated mass shooting that killed 22 people last month, who minced no words when asked whether he was proposing confiscation of assault-style rifles. “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said in a moment that instantly went viral. 

Perusal, the topic of foreign policy popped up. While discussing the potential withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Warren said the U.S. needs to stop using its military might to address problems that cannot be solved militarily. Sanders went after Biden for voting to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and pointed out that he is the only candidate onstage to have voted against all of Trump’s military budgets. “We don’t even know who our enemy is.” Buttigieg, the only veteran onstage, accused Trump of using troops as “props.” He made a chilling point: “Today, September 12, 2019, means today you could be 18 years old, old enough to serve, and not been alive during 9/11. We have got to put an end to endless war.”

One honorable mention of the night was when Biden ended up talking about playing the radio for small children to expand their vocabulary and used an outdated reference stating, “Make sure you have the record player on at night,” he said. It was his most tweeted-about line of the night. Another is when a group of protesters interrupting Biden by chanting “We are DACA recipients and our lives are at risk.” while he tried to speak about the loss of his first wife and daughter. The last is when Buttigieg made history with his coming out story in response to the question of resilience during the closing statements. He recalled being a military officer during the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members as well as working as an elected official in his state under then Gov. Mike Pence. He told viewers that he wondered “whether just acknowledging who I was was going to be the biggest career-ending professional setback.” One of his most memorable lines of the night was, “I came back from the deployment and realized that you only get to live one life, and I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer. So, I just came out.”

All in all, the debate received positive feedback from viewers and educated many on the democratic candidates running in the 2020 election. The next debate is expected to happen in mid-October at Otterbein University in Ohio.