Thursday’s Democratic debate lacked the sparks and conflicts that characterized the first two outings. It nonetheless produced three clear winners: former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Biden won by turning in a relatively strong and steady performance. He acquitted himself well during the first series of exchanges over health-care policy, deftly tying himself to President Barack Obama’s signature health-care reform while pointing out the weaknesses in Sens. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)’s plans. He did not stumble and looked strong and in command during these exchanges. More moderate Democrats looking for a winner saw much to like.
His noticeable weakening as the debate wore on, however, prevents him from claiming a clear triumph. Biden’s answers became increasingly complex and convoluted, and he took a long break from the fray as the questioning turned to foreign policy. He was saved by the bell in a sense when protesters interrupted his response to the final question, giving him time to gather his thoughts. He then delivered a solid closing, recounting the tragedy of losing his first wife and daughter in a car crash and then his beloved son Beau to cancer and noting how finding purpose in public service gave him strength to carry on. Biden likely found few converts, but his backers found little reason to doubt their man.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.