The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates largely ignored time constraints during the second night of the first primary debate, seeking break out moments and ways to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field.
Moderators gave top-polling candidates extra time to explain their positions on healthcare, immigration and economic policy, with California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden speaking on average about 15 seconds longer than allowed.
Biden was involved in most of the night’s longest exchanges. His back-and-forth with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is currently polling among the top candidates, focusing on Biden’s 2002 Iraq War vote and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California using Biden’s own words to “pass the torch” to the next generation of lawmakers.
Harris, who spoke for nearly 12 minutes, cited her position as a former federal prosecutor and black American to highlight herself as an authority on racial justice. She requested more time to discuss social inequality and drilled fellow top-biller Biden on his past stances on racial issues like busing, noting that she herself was bussed in elementary school.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said, looking at Biden directly. Still, she added, policy regarding race cannot be just an “intellectual debate” among Democrats.
Lower-polling candidates saw the relaxed moderating as an opportunity to introduce their platforms to voters. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has been running as one of the more moderate Democrats in the race, cited his record of reaching across the aisle, like in passing universal background checks “in a purple state.”
Candidates also went beyond one-or-two-word answers when asked to name single issues they would attack during their first days in office. Many mentioned several topics instead, spending averages of 10 to 15 seconds to underline their policy plans on the border crisis and foreign policy strategies.
Throughout the debate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York frequently interjected and had the night’s longest closing remarks, reiterating her role as the author of a universal healthcare bill and frequent advocacy for women’s rights.
Those on the night two stage also took more time to address the “threat” of a second Trump presidency after some expressed disappointment that the first night’s candidates didn’t mention the sitting president enough.