Two Nights That Didn't Revolve Around the Oldest White People in the Room

But, strangely enough, voting rights, voter suppression and gerrymandering didn't come up

Publisher’s Riff

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The biggest irony of the last two nights is this: moderators didn’t even bother asking anything about voting rights, voter suppression or election security and, yet, two candidates from the communities most impacted by those issues positioned themselves as the breakout stars of each night.

Let’s get this out of the way, first, because it is perhaps the most important and tragic takeaway from these debates: strangely, voting rights and preserving the integrity of the American political process did not come up as a major topic. The Supreme Court, just hours earlier on the second day, poked an oversized fork into democracy with its gerrymandering ruling and let the yolk spill out, like elites cutting up eggs on an expensive brunch plate. Voter suppression, apparently, isn’t a thing, election security not a big deal even though it plays as MVP for Republicans geared to rig the election once again through whatever means necessary.  That the Democratic candidates themselves didn’t raise it is telling.

Maybe because both nights were expected to revolve around the older White people in the room.

But, if Democratic primary voters had to nominate a team tomorrow based off two straight nights of debates, it would likely be Kamala Harris - Julian Castro. Or Castro-Harris. We’ll negotiate the details later. Castro’s reputation for grim, humorless disposition finally paid off because that’s what the moment called for. For all the grief Harris gets for being a prosecutor, well, that training paid off, too, as she went for Joe Biden’s jugular.

Does that change things? We’ll see. We’ve been holding off on a regular B|E polling assessment till probably next week. We wanted to first see how Biden managed through a week of gaffes on race and how Black voters were responding to him. But, here’s where Morning Consult found him, and every else, on average as of June 23rd …

Will that change by next week? And, did Harris successfully make Joe Biden 2019 into Hillary Clinton 2008-2.0? Is she the next Obama? It’s still too early to tell because there are no primary dates coming up soon. What we can see is she was less scripted, a bit more hungry at the lectern (she will, however, need to clean up that occasional tendency to appear lost-in-thoughts as if frantically organizing mental note cards).

In terms of issues, immigration dominated both nights. That like a core issue in the primary for candidates - but is it a core issue for Democratic primary voters …

Based on the numbers above, not really. Hence, candidates were aiming for progressive champions in the primary and Independents in the general election.

By night two, the environment got better spotlight. Climate change transitioned to, because of Harris, “climate crisis.” That is what Democratic primary voters want to hear. If Black voters felt left out on the first night, many felt back in the game by the second night. 

But we’re left wondering how in the world no one asked or addressed that epically dangerous SCOTUS decision on gerrymandering today. How can you debate the presidency when we’re on the cusp of little democracy being around by the time they’re elected? Why would you want a White House without it?

Both Harris and Castro appeared to tear through any virtual ceilings they hit before these debates, looking for moments to defy expectations. Both leave Biden wounded and Elizabeth Warren forgotten. Harris snatched the Blackness away from Cory Booker. It’s now a contest between who’s electable and who’s electable, different and exciting. Democratic primary voters do want someone who can beat Trump, yes; but, Democratic primary voters also remember 2016, the memory still raw. Do they want another situation where their forced to vote for someone simply because they can beat Trump or do they want someone who also motivates them to the polls?

Castro found openings to show his sharpness while Harris was much less scripted and raw. On the first night that proved a fatal blow to O’Rourke; on the second night, it gave Biden a deep bruise that left him wobbling, but the jury is still out on whether that’s it for him. Sanders was, officially, made irrelevant. Buttigieg composed, but still mostly hype.