During the first night of the second Democratic primary debate, which ran over two hours and 30 minutes, 10 candidates attempted to explain nuanced policy positions in 15 seconds or less.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was on the stage for the second time. She’s been polling in the low single digits; the debate was another chance for viewers nationally to consider her policies and candidacy. She was able to get across much of her platform: talking about the policy proposals that have defined her presidential run, like a national infrastructure revitalization plan, and she even got in a snippet about Russian election interference — a major legislative issue for her.
But defining the debate throughout were the moderators, who often cut off candidates in the middle of talking. With 10 candidates, CNN decided to allow only short remarks. Klobuchar was cut off twice, once when discussing President Donald Trump and once when discussing diplomacy.
“Thank you, Senator Klobuchar,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said in one instance, interspersed with Klobuchar trying to get another word in. “Thank you, Senator Klobuchar,” he said again. “Thank you, Senator.”
On health care, Klobuchar said, “We need the public option. That’s what Barack Obama wanted, and it would bring health care costs down for everyone.” She brought up the case of Alec Smith, a Minnesotan with diabetes who died after rationing his insulin. “Clearly, this is the easiest way to move forward quickly, and I want to get things done. People can’t wait. I’ve got my friend, Nicole, out there whose son actually died trying to ration his insulin as a restaurant manager. And he died because he didn’t have enough money to pay for it.”
As to why the U.S. doesn’t have universal background checks or an assault weapon ban, Klobuchar said the NRA and special interests were to blame.
“I sat across from the president of the United States after Parkland, because I’ve been a leader on these issues and have the bill to close the boyfriend loophole,” she said, referring to a bill that would prevent people who have been convicted of abusive behavior from buying or owning firearms.
The reason gun safety legislation isn’t getting passed, Klobuchar said, is because “that bill is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s doorstep because of the money and the power of the NRA. As president, I will take them on.”
As she did in the last debate, Klobuchar used some of her time to contrast her positions with Trump and call out racist remarks he’s made in recent weeks.
“Little kids literally woke up this weekend, turned on the TV, and saw their president calling their city, the town of Baltimore, nothing more than a home for rats. And I can tell you, as your president, that will stop.”
While candidates’ answers were often cut short, perhaps Klobuchar’s only explicit exchange of the night was with Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, prompted by Tapper: “Now, Senator Klobuchar says that she would, quote, ‘always be willing to meet with leaders to discuss policies.’ Is that view wrong?”
“I love Amy Klobuchar, but I think she’s wrong on this one,” he said. “I don’t think presidents of the United States meet with dictators.” Klobuchar responded that she always wants to leave the door open for conversation with leaders and keep allies in the loop.
But Klobuchar mostly avoided any direct clashes with rivals, much like in the first debate.
When Tapper quoted Klobuchar saying, “A lot of people are making promises, and I’m not going to make promises just to get elected,” he asked her:
“Who on this stage is making promises just to get elected?”
Her response was courteous to those sharing the debate stage, but drew no contrast.
“Everyone wants to get elected.”
There were several other memorable exchanges: Ryan suggested Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t know how Medicare-for-All would work, to which the Vermont senator responded: “I do know it, I wrote the damn bill.” And after former Rep. John Delaney pitched his platform of what he framed as moderation, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said: “You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
Watching the debate
Voters in Minnesota were watching, some together at watch parties. Jay Armstrong, of St. Paul, hosted one.
Armstrong decided to host a debate watch party for Bernie Sanders in his small apartment. “I’m not a Democrat. I lean Green,” Armstrong said. “And I’ve been put off by Democrat politics for a number of years, but I see in Bernie some honesty and trustfulness that is refreshing. And it’s enough to pull me back into electoral politics again.”
Overall, Armstrong said that Bernie appeals to him because he’s been disappointed by the current state of politics in Minnesota and nationally.
“I like what [Hawaii Rep.] Tulsi [Gabbard] is saying, but even our own senator, Amy Klobuchar, her politics today would have been considered moderate Republican just 25 years ago. And I think that’s how far right the American political spectrum has shifted.”
Conrad Zbikowski in Minneapolis didn’t host a watch party for a particular candidate, but for his apartment building. He said he printed out debate bingo and set up a straw poll for anyone who attended.
“I think it’s important to have a group activity where people can learn what other people are thinking and have a group discussion at the end of what people liked about each candidate. It’s not necessarily in support of one particular candidate, but it’s about having a productive discussion,” he said. “We’re having popcorn and drinks.”
During the debate, Zbikowski sent a few texts in rapid succession, providing updates on the status of the watch party.
“Group liked the [Marianne] Williamson opening.”
“Group not happy with skewed questions to Bernie.”
But the last one had nothing to do with the candidates at all and it seemed to echo the national conversation online, in that candidates were often cut short.
“Group not happy with the debate format.”