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In second Democratic debate, Klobuchar outlines agenda — 15 seconds at a time

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The debate was another chance for viewers nationally to consider Sen. Amy Klobuchar's policies and candidacy.

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, Armstrong 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.”

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Brian Gandt on 07/31/2019 - 12:18 pm.

    I can’t be bothered with these “debates”. How can important issues and positions be defined in brief sound bites? Never mind the issues being framed by the mods with a reality show mentality.

    That many in this country are fine with that, and can’t be bothered to go online and read policy positions worries me.

  2. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 07/31/2019 - 01:12 pm.

    I have to agree with an article I read criticizing CNN for the way they conducted the debate.

    I especially dislike the tactic of deliberately pitting candidates against each other, hoping to stir-up a verbal fight.

    I think this is especially true because I think this tactic plays into the hands of the republicans and Trump, since it usually ends up making both candidates look bad, and creates a hyper-emotional, kind of frantic tone to the debates that I think is probably a turn-of to undecided voters.

    Amy is my favorite candidate, as I think she understands that while the swing-state voters that will decide the elections in 2020 are willing to vote for a liberal, they probably aren’t going to vote in large enough numbers to win for someone pushing reparations or immediate medicare-for-all, or a near open-borders policy on immigration.

    I think she’s done fairly well in the debates, but since she doesn’t fit the “let’s create a dustup” category that CNN is looking for, I think she got a little short-changed time-wise in the debates.

    I think it might be better to have 2 or 3 or 4 rounds where every candidate gets a certain amount of time to say whatever they want to say – whether it’s laying out their most important beliefs, or responding to comments by other candidates.

    There would be a warning sound rung when they were 10 seconds from being out of time, and when out of time, a technician would simply cut off their microphone.

    That would prevent candidates from rambling on for 30 seconds or a minute after the moderators tried to cut them off, and the warning tone giving them a warning to ‘wrap up’ whatever point they were making.

    This would ensure equal time for the each candidate.

    We all know what the issues of the day are, let the candidates get into those as they chose – we don’t need these moderators interjecting themselves the way they did last night, and then sometimes cutting candidates off after 10 seconds as we saw in this last debate.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/31/2019 - 03:09 pm.

      A verbal fight makes for “better” television than a reasoned discussion of issues and policy.

      “Witty” people will occasionally make the joke that instead of debates, we should just have a real cage match with all the candidates. That crack is unfunny not only because it is trite, but because it is something that the TV networks would be only too happy to air.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/31/2019 - 01:21 pm.

    I liked the debate format. There is plenty of time yet to have more in-depth discussions when the dais is less crowded. The candidate order in the polls may change, but I came away feeling the polls are correct on who the top candidates are. I’m encouraged that we have good candidates to choose from.

    After her first debate performance, I was surprised that Williamson was in this debate. Last night I was impressed with her. She was dead on with some of her comments.

    Biden is the frontrunner, but his first debate was not impressive. He appeared weak and uninspired about being there. I’ve watched his townhalls and he slowly paces back and forth and speaks lacking passion. He needs to come off better tonight.

    Amy may get more attention after the field winnows down.

    As donors drop off, I expect about half of the candidates to drop out shortly before the next debate.

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/31/2019 - 11:44 pm.

    The 3 reasons Trump won were WI, MI, and PA. Amy could win there and Biden could win there too. Many of the others are so ignorant of what it will take to beat Trump they prattle on about promises that should better be called aspirations: If you can’t fulfill a promise unless you have a house majority and a 60 seat Senate’ it is just an aspiration and stop wasting our time with your tilting at windmills. I think Warren has the best ideas of all of them, unfortunately, the conditions necessary to implement those ideas will not be had after the 2020 election. Biden leads Trump in enough states right now to exceed 400 Electoral College votes. He’s the best bet to be rid of Trump.

  5. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/01/2019 - 08:08 am.

    Wow, watching the second night of the debates, I learned that Barack Obama/Joe Biden are the enemy that needs to be defeated, not Donald Trump.

    Far more attacking and villianizing was done on Obama/Biden than on the orange one.

    Trump must have been grinning ear to ear while munching on his Big Mac, watching the desperate ambition of politicians who want to make a name for themselves at any cost, tear into Obama/Biden with as much ferocity as Trump himself, in order to try to tear down the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

    Harris started on that in the last debate, scoring a lot of points with those who just enjoy a good fight with her attempt to portray Biden as a racist with her phony “I was hurt as a child because you didn’t want me to be bussed” routine, and so last night everyone decided I guess that’s the thing to do – attack, attack, attack Joe Biden.

    Gotta tear down the front runner, it’s our only chance to WIN!

    You build yourself up by tearing someone else down, forget Donald Trump or winning in the general election, let’s get rid of Joe Biden’s lead by tearing down him, Obama, the affordable care act, etc, etc.

    Thereby of course attacking someone with a 97% approval rating among democrats themselves (Obama) and very sadly I think, creating a negative impression of the democratic brand in the minds of the swing voters who will determine the 2020 elections.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    They could have gone after Trump, and his increasingly blatantly racist statments, but no, let’s tear down Obama and Biden, because I want to win and I have to tear down Biden to do it.

    It’s a terrible thing to see what personal ambition for power can do to people.

    We saw it in an otherwise good man, John McCain, when he saw he was losing in his bid for president, and in desperation, chose someone he had to know was grossly unqualified, Sarah Palin, hoping that somehow that would change things and let him WIN, which was perhaps all that seemed to matter at the time, and which later, he admitted was a mistake and that he regretted.

    And has been pointed out correctly I think as a step that helped in the dumbing-down of our political system and paving the way for a populist demagogue like Trump.

    And we’re seeing it in these democratic debates, where the thirst for winning and power are overriding what all of these candidates initially said, which was that the main thing was to defeat Donald Trump.

    But that’s not going to be done by doing the republican’s job, of tarnishing the democratic brand in the minds of swing-voters by tearing down the Obama/Biden legacy.

    I hope that the post-debate polls show that this desperate win-at-any-cost approach cost Harris and Booker and DeBlasio and the others engaged in hurt them, and I hope in future debates that they will focus more on attacking Trump instead and offering up what their vision is – instead of trying to tear down other democratic candidates and the democratic brand.

    That only make Donald Trump happy, to see his work being done for him by a squabbling group of win-at-any-cost democratic candidates.

    Sure, express that you think your approach is a better choice than Biden’s and the reason’s why, but let’s not attack him as a villain, since he may be the guy who’s name is on the ballot opposite Donald Trump’s in November 2020.

  6. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 08/01/2019 - 08:38 am.

    The debates have given clarity in that the Dem party is pandering only to the progressive wing. When you have candidates that know the party is headed in the wrong direction to win an election, it spells nothing but trouble no matter who you are up against. The election is not going to be about the Trump supporters and the progressives. It’s going to be about everyday people who want to know if their lives are going to be better in 4 years in 4 years. Giving free everything to others above your own citizens plus trying to move our society into programs that destroy large swaths of jobs and retirement accounts is not a path to victory.
    President Kennedy would be considered extreme right by his own party these days.

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