It appears as if the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination, which had as many as 20 hopefuls in June, will narrow down to two candidates—former vice-president Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont remaining the dark horse.
While Biden, seen by Moderates as the best hope of the Democratic Party to unseat President Donald Trump, has been the frontrunner since he entered the race and through the first three national debates, including the one Thursday in Houston, Texas, Sen Warren, darling of the Progressives and the left-wing along with Sen Sanders, has been climbing up the charts steadily.
Both Biden and Sanders have so far shown no sign of being able to widen their appeal beyond their respective core support bases, but more and more people appear inclined to believe that the sharp and polished Warren has what it takes.
For the first time on Thursday, all three featured together on the debate. And while there were some sharp exchanges between Sanders and Biden, as indeed there were between Biden and fellow former Obama aide Julian Castro, the former vice-president and Warren hardly crossed swords, though they were on the same stage for the first time.
The New York Times quoted a political strategist, Dan Sena, who helped oversee the Democratic takeover of the House last year and is now advising Sen Michael Bennett of Colorado, who failed to qualify for the Houston debate, as saying that Warren is pursuing her own disciplined strategy.
“My suspicion is that the Warren campaign, in particular, is looking at a much, much longer runway,” Sena said. Warren’s immediate goals would be to consolidate her backing from liberals and expand her appeal to lower-income voters and minorities. Attacking Biden at this stage may not help either cause. That is probably why Warren spent most of her time on the debate highlighting her own working-class Oklahoma background rather than jousting with Biden.
Healthcare and gun control seemed to be the two topics that seized the attention of the candidates. One report on TheHill.com suggested that many Democrats believe healthcare could be the one single issue that could unseat Trump in the election next year.
But healthcare is also the one issue on which the Democratic field is sharply divided, with senators Warren and Sanders on the side of publicly funded healthcare for all with no role for the private sector while others, including Biden and Sen Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, favor a healthcare system that includes the private sector.
On gun control, for probably the first time ever, a presidential candidate came out in favor of not just background checks but a total ban on military-style assault weapons and a program to buy back such weapons that are already in the hands of the public.
Former Congressman Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, Texas, where one of the latest shooting outrages took place, did not shy away from openly calling for the withdrawal of all weapons of mass murder, a position that many of his own party colleagues are afraid to take. But O’Rourke insisted the public is completely behind the plan, including some who own guns. If the resounding applause his position got at the debate is any indication, O’Rourke may have judged the public mood correctly on this one.