Who Won the Democratic Debate? Campaign Experts Weighed In

Twitter can’t tell us whether, or how, Wednesday’s MSNBC/Washington Post debate will change voters’ minds. But it can give us the perspectives of some of the people with expertise on primary races: veteran campaign strategists, consultants and advocates from both parties.

Here is a sampling of their reactions.

Senator Kamala Harris of California, trying to stop her campaign’s slide, got perhaps her best reviews since the first debate in June — the one that shot her up in the polls for a few weeks.

“Great to see how Harris has dropped the preplanned quips and is instead genuinely showing her chops.” — Sally Kohn, progressive commentator and former campaign strategist

“Deeply appreciate @KamalaHarris talk about not taking communities of colors for granted. As she said, we must ask candidates, where ya been and what are you going to do.” — María Urbina, national political director of Indivisible

“In previous debates, @KamalaHarris used her time mainly to effectively go after the president. Tonight, she used it to also tell a positive story about herself and who she is fighting for. She should do more of that.” — Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and former Democratic National Committee spokesman

Commentators were not unanimous on Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., — who has risen to or near the top of recent polls, especially in Iowa — but for the most part, they thought he did well under the increased scrutiny.

“Mayor Pete so smart to constantly frame his message about pulling our country together in a post-Trump presidency. It’s not like the guy is going to disappear and we know it. Leadership important.” — Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton

“Second time Mayor Pete has cited his experience of getting things done, but, unless I missed it, he didn’t offer examples of WHAT he got done. Not saying there’s not anything there, but if he’s going to dismiss Amy’s experience, he needs a better answer.” — Christina Reynolds, spokeswoman for EMILY’s List

“If you want to understand why @PeteButtigieg is surging, just watch his response to Kamala Harris. He was smart, empathetic, emotional … and right. The best 1 minute of tonight’s #DemDebate.” — Frank Luntz, Republican consultant and pollster

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota earned praise for several responses, but most prominently her defense of her argument that she and the other women running would struggle to win support with Mr. Buttigieg’s level of political experience. And Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey did well against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“.@amyklobuchar gets it right again. Women have to work twice as hard and be twice as good to get half the credit. It’s why we haven’t elected a woman president.” — Patti Solis Doyle, senior adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign

“.@amyklobuchar is the most underrated debater in the field. She has had standout moments in every single debate, delivering answers that are substantive, powerful and personal. And she knows how to draw contrast without coming across as negative. She’s very good in this format.” — Mo Elleithee

“Booker lands a solid hit on Biden, who then walks back from his previous statements on marijuana legalization. BIG moment.” — Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

“What a brilliant tie-in by Booker — connecting voter suppression in Georgia to the restrictive abortion ban the state passed. Kudos to him for showcasing that connection.” — Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and former labor secretary

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had the most speaking time of any candidate but did not make the biggest impression. But strategists and commentators generally said she and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont did what they needed to do to maintain their positions in the race, and both of them had standout moments — especially on impeachment for Ms. Warren and climate change for Mr. Sanders.

“First question out of the gate to Warren on impeachment and she nails it — incorporates her campaign message about banning big money influence in politics.” — Adrienne Elrod

“I also think the debate showed that @ewarren’s recent Medicare for All announcements achieved their purpose of getting her off the defensive.” — Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama

“Incredible moment for Bernie. He’s really started to hone in on how to broaden his message to more issues. I would love to see him apply that to race and immigration, too.” — Jess Morales Rocketto

“I appreciate @BernieSanders standing for human rights and dignity of Palestinians. A real differentiator.” — Aimee Allison, founder of She the People

In what has become a pattern, Mr. Biden drew good marks for his responses on foreign policy — consistently a strong point for him in debates — but groans for his responses on race.

“.@JoeBiden is very comfortable on these national security issues and it shows.” — David Axelrod, former senior adviser to Mr. Obama

“So… uh… Biden just whitesplained the black community to two black senators, who were standing onstage with him. Yeah… that just happened.” — Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry Reid

“Biden literally either forgot Harris was black, a senator, or both. Debate gaffes often don’t matter ultimately, but that was a REALLY bad one.” — Jennifer N. Victor, political scientist at George Mason University

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