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NBC NEWS ELECTION COVERAGE -- The First Democratic Debate -- Pictured: (l-r) at The Knight Concert Hall, Miami Florida on Wednesday , June 26,, 2019-- (Photo by: Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo)

Emails & Opinions

Joe Henderson: Personality mattered more than talking points in Dem debate

Instead of a clear winner, the Democratic debate was more of a split decision

Many Americans, it’s safe to say, were meeting many of the 10 Democrats on the debate stage Wednesday night in Miami for the first time. On a night like this, perception can matter more than policy.

I mean, the evening mostly bought us the usual Democratic talking points in varying degrees. They seemed to agree we need a better health care system. Gun control needs to be considered. Economic disparity is a real thing.

Protecting the environment is a priority. China, Russia, the Middle East are huge problems. Donald Trump is bad.

Oh, and they seemed to shout at each other a lot.

As far as policy, though, there weren’t many surprises. What people will be talking about this morning, though, is how ready the candidates were for their close-ups.

But evenings like this demand judgment, an explicit declaration of winners and losers. I’d call it a split decision in most cases, except for the NBC technical crew. Bad night for those folks.

But back on point, Elizabeth Warren surely was ready and came as advertised. Passionate, progressive, and utterly convinced that everything she says is the gospel truth and you wouldn’t dare disagree with her.

I must admit there was a moment during the debate when I pondered the nightmare scenario of being in a middle seat between Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on a cross-country nonstop.

Three words: noise canceling headphones.

De Blasio blustered, bullied and just wasn’t likable to me. Ditto that for former Maryland Congressman John Delaney. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is right that climate change is a national threat, but that’s not enough of a platform for someone who wants to be President.

If Democrats win, maybe Inslee can be the Interior Secretary.

I liked U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and thought he made great points about the Democrats needing to reconnect with working people.

“We have a perception problem in the Democratic Party. We are not connecting to the working-class people,” he said. “If you want to beat Mitch McConnell, this had better be a working-class party.”

He probably doesn’t make the shortlist of Dems who can win in 2020, but his party better pay attention to what he’s telling them.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker had good nights. Both were impressive in showing viewers the force of their personalities without making you want to cover your ears.

Klobuchar had one of the best lines of the night.

Inslee blathered that he had been the only candidate to pass a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive.

Why a dry, sly, eye-roll of a comeback, Klobuchar noted, “I just want to say there are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”

Later, she got in another zinger, this one directed at Trump.

“I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy at 5 in the morning in our bathrobe,” she said.

Beto O’Rourke tried to stay cool when the evening seemed to be morphing into a shouting match, but I don’t think he had any breakout moments.

 U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was thoughtful, straightforward, and composed.

And we can’t leave out former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who also served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama. He got better as the night went on.

It’s on to Round 2 tonight with 10 more Democrats making what surely will be many of the same points we just heard. Then people can decide who they like the most and winnow the field into something manageable as the race for 2020 gets serious.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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