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Chris Cillizza's winners and losers from the fifth Democratic debate

Sen. Amy Klobuchar came out swinging during the MSNBC/The Washington Post Democratic presidential debate. In the first hour, she spoke more than any other candidate except Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Posted: Nov 21, 2019 6:10 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 6:10 AM

The fifth Democratic debate of the 2020 presidential campaign is in the books.

With only six candidates having qualified for the next debate in December, this was a last-chance, uh, chance for some of them to make the case to voters that they deserve to stay in this race.

I watched and took some notes on the best and the worst of the night that was.

Below, my winners and losers.

Winners

Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator has been desperately searching for a moment over the first four debates -- and she might just have found one Wednesday night. Klobuchar was one of the few people on stage to take on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (more on that below) and her point about a woman -- still -- not being elected president was strong: "If you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every day," she said. Klobuchar's biggest issue is that the pragmatic center lane has been dominated by Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden. Her performance on Wednesday night might just change that.

Andrew Yang: Sure, Yang didn't get the chance to say a single word in the first 30 minutes of the debate. (Sort of remarkable given that his arc in the race is directly upward.) But when Yang did get a chance to speak, he came across as, by far, the most relatable candidate on the stage. Yang's line when asked what he would say to Vladimir Putin after getting elected president (he dead-panned, "Sorry I beat your guy") landed well. Yang's candidacy still feels like it is too far in front of where people are -- he's not wrong about data being the new oil, and there are strong defenses for his universal basic income proposal -- for him to be a top-tier contender. But man, he has drastically over-performed expectations.

Kamala Harris: Unlike in the last few debates, Harris seemed much looser -- and willing to take a few chances. (She said that Trump had been "punked" on foreign policy at one point.) That looseness is likely the result of the fact that Harris recognizes she has very little to lose given her abysmal polling numbers and money troubles. But regardless of the reason, it worked for Harris for the night. She got the better of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in a debate over American foreign policy -- a reversal of a showdown between the two at CNN's Detroit debate in late July -- and came across as what her campaign wants her to be: A fighter for the average person.

Pete Buttigieg: It was as though the other nine candidates were totally unaware that polling released in the last few days showed the South Bend mayor as the front-runner in Iowa and surging in New Hampshire. With the exception of a light jab from Klobuchar, no one really took Buttigieg on -- and he notably appeared to get the best of Gabbard in a head-to-head over the military and the role the US should be playing abroad. At one point in the second hour, the moderators teed up Harris to hit Buttigieg on his lack of appeal with black voters. But she said she agreed with him! Buttigieg came across a bit too rote and programmatic for me -- at times it felt as though he was reciting a speech he memorized -- but his campaign will be thrilled that he walks away from this debate without a scratch on him. Plus, you will hear this line from Buttigieg a whole lot in the analysis of the debate: "I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small, but frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small."

Losers

Debates: Debates are, um, about debating. As in, the candidates talking about where they differ on key issues so that voters are fully informed about the choices before them. That was not what happened in Atlanta on Wednesday night. Instead, the candidates were asked about issues on which they agree totally and completely -- what Democratic presidential candidate isn't going to support impeaching Trump??? -- or given wide berths to offer essentially practiced stump speeches on issues. An undecided voter tuning in to figure out where the differences are between the candidates would be sorely disappointed.

Joe Biden: The former vice president's opening answer was shaaaaaky. And it was made all the worse given that the question was an absolute softball: How did he feel about being attacked by Trump? In the middle hour of the debate, Biden found his footing; his answer on why he wanted to be president and why he was singularly ready to do the job was his best answer of the entire debate season. But then things turned. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker scored with a hit on Biden's equivocation on the legalization of marijuana. ("I thought you might have been high when you said it," Booker joked, to roars of laughter from the crowd.) And Biden committed something he is known for: An unforced error. In talking about domestic violence, he said that people have to just keep "punching" at the problem. I know what he meant. But that was definitely a poor choice of words. And then another: He said he had the support of the only black woman elected to the Senate. Except that he forgot that Harris was on the stage. "Proud to be the second Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. #DemDebate," tweeted Harris shortly after. (Biden appeared to be referring to former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the Senate -- though not the only one. Moseley Braun is a strong Biden supporter.)

Health care: The issue that has been decisive in each of the last four elections (at least) is health care. It also happens to be the issue on which the four front-runners -- Buttigieg, Biden, Warren and Sanders -- disagree most clearly. So why then did we only have a few minutes of the debate dedicated to it? And none of the differences between the candidates -- "Medicare for All" or not -- were litigated in any meaningful way. Huh?

Tom Steyer: Quick, name something the billionaire said in the debate. Right. Same. And that's the problem. Steyer and his campaign had to be thrilled that Biden somewhat inexplicably picked a fight with him about his involvement in the coal industry, but that fight sort of fizzled before it ever really got started. Steyer isn't going anywhere -- he's got lots of money and is willing to spend it -- but he really needs to find a way to make an impression. And he didn't do it Wednesday night.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 590211

Reported Deaths: 9310
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion815581297
Lake44306666
Allen31919541
Hamilton28371304
St. Joseph26766371
Elkhart24098341
Vanderburgh18643213
Tippecanoe17422121
Johnson14496284
Porter14399160
Hendricks13870241
Madison10561212
Vigo10483171
Clark10240130
Monroe9076108
Delaware8836132
LaPorte8771155
Howard7897138
Kosciusko787277
Warrick643890
Hancock638797
Bartholomew626694
Floyd6150105
Wayne5933157
Grant5818110
Dubois544372
Boone534367
Morgan516291
Marshall494184
Henry493664
Cass471760
Noble460557
Dearborn458444
Jackson414745
Shelby402179
Lawrence380575
Clinton364539
Gibson356556
DeKalb337363
Montgomery334851
Harrison328542
Knox327839
Miami309843
Steuben306340
Adams295235
Whitley294125
Wabash293045
Ripley292345
Putnam284847
Huntington283557
Jasper282433
White267538
Daviess261672
Jefferson250738
Fayette242348
Decatur242182
Greene233360
Posey232326
Wells229447
LaGrange224161
Clay217932
Scott216937
Randolph208340
Jennings192535
Sullivan189031
Spencer181917
Fountain179725
Washington177118
Starke171341
Jay162821
Owen159537
Fulton159229
Carroll152115
Orange151433
Rush149918
Perry147227
Vermillion144933
Franklin143433
Parke12908
Tipton128232
Pike113625
Blackford107522
Pulaski95237
Newton89421
Brown85530
Benton84310
Crawford7579
Martin70013
Warren6587
Switzerland6205
Union6113
Ohio4677
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 826754

Reported Deaths: 10200
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin97493705
Cuyahoga821781012
Hamilton61350439
Montgomery41700399
Summit33399726
Lucas30111597
Butler29721228
Stark24811400
Warren18917139
Lorain18086212
Mahoning16758335
Lake15365135
Clermont15160104
Delaware1382177
Licking12679132
Trumbull12401302
Fairfield1218480
Greene11631133
Medina11128165
Clark10608264
Wood9964154
Allen9511126
Portage8867105
Miami886573
Richland8790116
Marion7319113
Tuscarawas7142174
Columbiana7085124
Pickaway702850
Wayne6781164
Muskingum671242
Erie5886118
Hancock537890
Ross530287
Scioto519662
Geauga483555
Darke457589
Ashtabula439068
Lawrence432651
Union430628
Mercer424287
Sandusky421862
Seneca413555
Auglaize412759
Huron410338
Shelby410221
Jefferson403366
Belmont395640
Washington372040
Putnam364672
Athens36369
Madison339329
Knox336522
Ashland331738
Fulton325943
Defiance319278
Crawford313268
Preble311534
Brown296619
Logan292729
Ottawa282134
Clinton279043
Williams270166
Highland262418
Jackson256943
Guernsey241725
Champaign240927
Fayette225529
Morrow22294
Perry221318
Holmes218662
Henry210247
Hardin204133
Coshocton197420
Van Wert196644
Gallia190926
Wyandot190549
Adams165615
Pike164116
Hocking163423
Carroll149516
Paulding139021
Noble117840
Meigs103221
Monroe95629
Harrison8568
Morgan79128
Vinton67113
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