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Democratic Debates #1: A Gen Z Perspective

The balanced, egalitarian structure of the first round of Democratic primary debates creates a striking contrast to the stratified structure of the Republican debates of 2016. Twenty Democratic candidates were divided at random into two separate nights of debates across June 26th and June 27th in Miami, Florida, hosted by NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo.

Given the large number of candidates in the Democratic party this year, requirements were set in January regarding qualifications for debate participation, which stated that candidates must either receive at least 1% in three separate national or state polls, or receive at least 65,000 individual donations. With a few exclusions, the participant number was capped at twenty. Some of the most popular and highly-anticipated candidates are Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, all of whom participated on the second night of debates, as well as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who participated on the first night. For the more well-known candidates, these debates functioned as an opportunity to speak on their individual policies and connect with the voters on specific issues wherein their ideology may differ from the other candidates. For the lesser-known candidates, these debates were a platform to introduce themselves to voters and get their foot in the door, as well as to create an image of a united front throughout the Democratic party. The Democrats have no need to be catty or go after one another with personal attacks, as was seen within the 2016 Republican debates. Instead, candidates must find common ground in order to face up against Donald Trump in the 2020 election. This had some exceptions, such as Kamala Harris directly confronting Joe Biden about his previous political record regarding race relations, and more specifically his history of opposing “bussing” in order to integrate public schools. Biden fired back that he did not oppose bussing, only bussing as organized by the federal government, and that he believes that there is still much work to be done for the civil rights of both African-Americans and the LGBTQ community. Harris insisted that it is the duty of the federal government to facilitate this progress.

During the debates, each candidate was given sixty seconds to answer questions and thirty seconds to respond to follow-ups. This seemed like a rather short window of time for candidates to get into policy and ideology specifics, but created room for viewers to get a taste of their overall campaign platforms and some areas where they may disagree from issue to issue. Some of the most hot-button topics that garnered quite a lot of unanimity throughout the party were abortion rights, climate change, and foreign policy/immigration. All of the candidates have vowed to protect Roe v. Wade and uphold a woman’s right to abortion, as well as placing a focus on transitioning to clean, sustainable energy and reforming/repairing America’s relations with other countries. The biggest challenge for these candidates will be finding the right balance of being far enough left to be in stark contrast to Donald Trump, while remaining moderate enough to appeal to the masses and those millions of Americans who identify as Independents. There is no question that the Republican party is now Trump’s party -- Several lifelong Republicans have jumped ship since his election, while others have only strengthened their ties through Trump. American “centrism” is now more far right than it has ever been, and our country is not yet ready for the pendulum to swing back in the opposite direction. These are tumultuous, divisive times for our country. These Democratic debates offer an opportunity for the Democratic party to shift centrist American politics back towards the left and find a balanced middle ground.

Following the conclusion of the first round of debates, the strongest candidates are arguably still Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg. However, with strong showings from Booker and Castro coupled with online momentum from Yang’s “Yang Gang”, these candidates will likely develop their platform as the election draws nearer in order to expand their outreach and draw in the Independent voters. The next round of Democratic debates will be held in Detroit, Michigan on July 30th and 31st, hosted by CNN.

By Megan Sadorus

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