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Local Democratic supporters attend the viewing party for the first night of the Democratic debate at Little Italy on June 26, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Due to the amount of candidates, the debate was split into two nights. (Photo/Foster Steinbeck)

 These post-debate reports below constitute a prospective ranking of the field of 20 Democratic candidates who met the criteria to participate in the first primary debate on June 26 and 27. It will additionally include a debate “grade” based on their overall performance in the debate, as well as taking into account how they did relative to how they were expected to perform in the field. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (1): A

The junior senator from California knew she was going to be watched with a keen eye, even though she could easily be overshadowed on Thursday simply by the name recognition of former-Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. However, let there be no mistake, she was the adult at the table last night. While both nights of the first debate have been relatively civil, the night could have easily eroded into bickering and name-calling as the topics became increasingly personal and existential to defining their candidacies. As soon as the civility seemed to erode, Harris interjected like any television President trying to calm a bickering cabinet meeting by noting that “America doesn’t want to see a food fight… they want to know how we’re going to put food on their tables” (insert erupting applause). She may not have been the biggest dark horse going into Thursday night, but she is absolutely in the mix as a frontrunner now. She is a sharp debater with a strong background and serious passion for what she says. Yet, I would argue the most important accomplishment of the night that truly puts her in the running for the best candidate is simple: She knocked-off Joe Biden, who had everything to lose last night.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Tied 2): A-

Senator Warren is known for three things: wit, passion and ultimately seeming to have an extensive policy solution to every single issue. While not the only candidate vying to be seen as the “ultimate progressive,” her message is clear: A complete pendulum shift away from the policies of President Trump. To do that, she advocates for massive social and economic reforms such as universal child care, crack-downs on Wall Street and corporate America, reduce racial and gender disparity and curbing climate change. Warren was front and center on Wednesday and gave no reason to believe that she should be removed from that position. Unlike Joe Biden — the other candidate front and center on the second night — she performed to her apex and proved why she was a frontrunner of that debate. The only real negative to her debate was a common theme from nearly-every candidate of dancing around direct questions like where the line should be drawn in the debate concerning abortion. Even then, she approached that political dance like a waltz.  

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Tied 2): A-

“Mayor Pete,” as he is often referred as due to the difficulty for most to pronounce his last name (Boot-Edge-Edge), was anything but hard to follow in the first debate. His capacity to fuse a seamless style of speaking with sensible stances on policy was both refreshing and welcoming.  He may have been a serious dark horse coming into the first debate, but I don’t imagine him being underestimated for much longer. While some may seem to want to knock him for a less-than-positive answer to the questions surrounding the lack of diversity in the police department of South Bend, Indiana, his response with a simple statement of not being “able to get it done” was both honest and sincere, rather than a political roundabout that avoids the question. The mayor is clearly hyper-intelligent, and his background in the military and presence in the LGBTQ community is something that the modern Democratic Party strives to provide in candidates. If he can hold this momentum after a few bad days on the campaign trail, I will be waiting for the comparisons to the charisma of President John F. Kennedy. 

Sec. Julian Castro (4): B+

Besides being a former Housing and Urban Development eecretary and potential-running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016, very little is known about Castro, but that didn’t stop him from seriously connecting with potential voters on Wednesday night. While not the first candidate on stage to speak Spanish (looking at you, Beto), it seems that he truly did the best to connect to Hispanic voters. It will be interesting to see if he holds the sudden upshot in momentum. 

Sen. Cory Booker (5): B+

Booker is well-known for being a compassionate orator, if not sometimes a bit overwhelming (someone please tell him to blink constantly). Nonetheless, Booker prides himself of his legislative record and passion for social progressivism. While he did not claim a stage presence as dominant as Senator Warren, he possesses a serious devotion to stances on curbing gun violence and the strains on the LGBTQ community imposed by the current administration. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (6): B-

While Senator Sanders did not perform overwhelmingly negatively, let’s be honest: last night was nothing more than a reiteration of the same stump speech we have been hearing since the summer of 2015 when he announced his candidacy last time. The apex of his message is simple: The greatest threats to modern society are the disparity of wealth and social divisions imposed upon Americans by Wall Street and the current administration, and the only solution is a political revolution. But hey, at least he is consistent. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden (7): C-

The reason I gave Biden a higher rank than others with better grades in the debate was simply a decision based on practicality. Even though Biden likely lost a lot of ground on Thursday night, he will likely still poll well due to his name recognition.

Going into the debate, the former Vice President was nothing short of last year’s championship team. And rather than coming into the next season with everything to lose and running the table like the year before, he was an overwhelming disappointment. He fumbled his words, failed to lead the discussion, and was incapable of shaking-off attacks from other candidates. However, the greatest failure of the night was also Senator Harris’s biggest highlight. When asked why he opposed the federal enforcement of desegregation bussing nearly — 20 years following Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Biden was visibly shaken in conjuring an answer that would satisfy an audience that was beginning to view him as a relic. While it is true that his record during his nearly-four decades of service as an elected official is filled with accolades that support civil and social rights, this one is going to haunt him. In short, Biden was the clear frontrunner going into Thursday night, even if it was purely based on name recognition. However, I see it as very unlikely that he will regain the reigns. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio (8): B-

Mayor de Blasio surprised me the most. A visibly-towering figure on the end of the stage, he was the most demanding figure of any candidate that barely made the debate cutoff. While he did receive some negativity as being the main interjector of Wednesday’s debate, I saw de Blasio as being the kid who plays the league-minimum on his little league team, but came out swinging for the fences to prove himself. However, an accidental quotation of Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, the day after the debate surely didn’t help keep any momentum going.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (9): C+

Senator Klobuchar is another candidate who lacked what Biden had coming into the debate: Popular name recognition. While she has never lost an election for any public office she has run for, Senator Klobuchar was largely forgettable in the first debate minus a few strong quips about her track record and capacity to take-on Donald Trump. 

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (10): C-

If Biden hadn’t been so incapable at holding his position as the frontrunner in Thursday’s debate, O’Rourke would have been the greatest overall disappointment across both nights. The spark and appeal that made him so popular in his 2018 attempt to oust Senator Ted Cruz in Texas, a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to a state-wide public office in over 30 years, was noticeably absent. While not the only candidate from Texas, commentators seem to agree that his attempt to appeal to voters by speaking Spanish (albeit like a second-year college student) was perhaps the greatest swing and miss of any candidate who wasn’t at risk of missing the debate requirements to participate. Barring a massive turnaround, I don’t see Beto sticking around beyond the Iowa Caucuses. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (11): C+

Barring some interesting polling results from conservative outlets that seemed to suggest she was the greatest performer of the night, Representative Gabbard performed largely as expected. A candidate with a strong military background, she offers an interesting perspective that has yet to be seen if it is actually connecting with voters. While she did not perform badly, she honestly didn’t do anything to stand out from the pack. However, as far as the rest of the rankings go below, not doing anything dramatic to stand out may have been better than doing things that were inadvertently negative. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (12): C-

Senator Gillibrand irked many observers when she consistently attempted to interject early-on. However, unlike de Blasio the night before, it did not seem to help her. She was indeed fiery and passionate, but it came-off largely as “my way or the highway” kind of approach. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell (13): C

Let’s just say this: While I don’t see Congressman Swalwell winning the nomination, I absolutely see a cabinet position for him if Senator Harris receives the party support and the presidency. While not directly supporting her, he was instrumental in setting-up Harris’s attempt to dismantle Biden’s perception as the frontrunner. His biggest highlight of the night was his allegory about a popular politician mentioning in his childhood that it was time to pass the metaphorical torch to the younger generation of Americans, who was subsequently revealed to Biden (insert roaring applause). However, besides that quip and a controversial policy of a mandatory federal buyback program for assault weapons across the United States, Swalwell was largely forgettable. Running a campaign on ousting old people can only get you so far. 

Rep. John Delaney (14): C-

Perhaps my favorite moment of the night was when I read the physical comparisons between Congressman Delaney and Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon comedies. Beyond that, Delaney did not make much of a splash in the debate, but he also didn’t blatantly falter. 

Gov. Jay Inslee (15): C-

Governor Inslee’s claim to fame is found largely in running the principle focus of his campaign as combating climate change. While it is not uncommon for climate change to be a major talking point for any of the Democratic candidates, the crux of Inslee’s campaign largely fails to make a splash beyond this major policy initiative. 

Rep. Tim Ryan (16): C-

Congressman Ryan has been in the House of Representatives for 17 years, and I see him still likely running a re-election campaign there in the fall of 2020 instead of vying for the nomination. 

Sen. Michael Bennet (17): D+

Beyond a few quips with Bernie Sanders on his plan to impose a mandate for universal health care and his personal story of being late to declare his candidacy due to a battle with prostate cancer, Senator Bennet unfortunately failed to make much of a splash this week. While not the splash that he may need, any effect that he did have may have been enough to jump a candidate or two. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper (18): C-

The former Governor of Colorado came into the debate following being nearly-booed off of the stage at the California Democratic Party Convention for his blatant stance against the intrusion of socialism in the Democratic Party. Beyond that quip back and forth with Bernie Sanders, he was largely incapable of making a major splash. 

Andrew Yang (19): D+

While the bar was understandably set rather-low for entrepreneur Andrew Yang and the “Yang Gang,” he was largely incapable of making a major splash beyond removing his tie at the break and his single policy of a blank $1,000 check given to every American every single month upon turning 18. Even then, he noticeably stumbled in trying to explain how the large tax needed to provide this monthly stipend for merely being an adult would be able to do better than offset each other. 

Marianne Williamson (20): D-

“Love will win” is an interesting mantra, but didn’t seem like enough to make up for a clear lack of political experience. 

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