The loser award will have to go to Biden. Though he held his own with questions on foreign policy, the former vice president once again committed an unforced error by misspeaking and saying he had the support of the only African American woman elected to the Senate. He meant the first and corrected himself. The damage wasn’t so much in the gaffe he corrected, but that it detracted from his key point: that he held the strongest African American support of anyone on the debate stage. Once again, he stepped on his own message.

Otterbein: Booker had a strong night. He was funny, effectively attacked Biden, and talked at length about one of his key issues (criminal justice). But will that actually make a difference for his campaign? He hasn’t yet qualified for the next debate. (It’s also unclear he will benefit by going after Warren’s wealth tax, which is broadly popular.) Bernie Sanders had a not-great, not-bad night: He didn’t make any mistakes, and his remarks on Palestinians will be remembered. But for once his signature issue was not the focus of the first half-hour of the debate.

Buttigieg arguably had an OK night since few of his rivals aggressively attacked him even though he’s surging in Iowa. Yes, Klobuchar tussled with him over experience and Booker and Harris made arguments about the importance of black voters that were not-so-subtly about him, but there’s no doubt that he got off easier than Warren did after she emerged as a top candidate.

Siders: Amy Klobuchar did the most to help her campaign, more effectively occupying the “centrist alternative to Biden” lane than anyone else on stage. Her critique of sexism in politics and her rebuke of “free-car” progressivism were both sharp, improving on an already-strong performance last month. If nothing else, her odds of a vice presidential nod ticked up as a result.

Pete Buttigieg had a good night, too. And still, Buttigieg’s night was the worst. Even if it was out of his control, expectations matter in politics, and this was supposed to be the night that all focus was on Buttigieg. A good night for him would have been two hours of attacks, with the emerging narrative that he had fended off the assault. He didn’t even get the chance.

Thompson: Klobuchar had the most powerful moment of her campaign when she clearly and eloquently called out sexism in American politics. It’s a tricky thing to do — female candidates and candidates of color often shy away from so explicitly talking about such prejudice — but her answer was a thoughtful rallying cry for female voters. In a largely tranquil debate with candidates repeating their usual talking points, that moment will get more play and attention in the coming days.

Billionaire Tom Steyer had the worst night. Having spent tens of millions of his personal fortune to get a spot on the debate stage, he still didn’t lay out a clear, coherent rationale for “why him?” He will likely be on the next debate stage but he’s in the low single digits and nothing tonight changed that.

What surprised you?

Korecki: Medicare for … none? After the issue played an outsized role in every debate until this one, it was placed on the backburner this round. Instead, there was a shift toward impeachment and foreign policy – areas that critics say have not had enough air time in previous debates.

Otterbein: It’s pretty remarkable that there wasn’t a true Pete pile-on given his position in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. That seems to imply that his rivals don’t take him seriously. Medicare for All also took much less of a beating than it has in past debates, which will make progressives happy.

Siders: Most observers were expecting a Buttigieg pile-on, with Buttigieg rising in public opinion polls. He took an arrow on experience. But the lack of a sustained assault suggests two things: First, after months of debates, competitors appear to have learned that on a multi-candidate stage, the aggressor does not necessarily reap the rewards of attacking a rival. Second, Buttigieg’s opponents do not yet feel pressure to pull him down, with the possibility that his surge in Iowa is not sustainable and — if he does sustain it — they will get another opportunity to go after him in December.

Thompson: I was surprised that there wasn’t that much actual debating. While there was some interesting back-and-forth near the end, the first hour-plus largely had candidates reciting part of their regular stump speeches.

What moment or exchange will we remember a month from now?

Korecki: Tulsi Gabbard vs. everyone. No candidate managed to get under people’s skin and create fireworks like Gabbard. The two memorable exchanges of the night were Gabbard’s clashes with Kamala Harris and later, Pete Buttigieg. The question posed to Gabbard in and of itself was somewhat stunning for a Democratic debate: “What is the rot you see in the Democratic Party?” Harris jumped in and accused Gabbard of buddying up to Steve Bannon, and refusing to call out a war criminal. Gabbard then went after Buttigieg on lack of experience and he responded with a hit on Gabbard for meeting with Bashar Assad.

Otterbein: A few options: First, one of Yang’s several funny lines (“I am not insane”; “Sorry I beat your guy”). Second, Booker saying to Biden, “I thought you might have been high when you said it,” referring to the former vice president saying marijuana might be a gateway drug. Or third, Biden’s gaffes.

Siders: The exchange with Buttigieg on race. If Buttigieg can improve his poor standing with black voters, his response to a question about race on Wednesday — that while he does not have the experience of being discriminated against because of his skin color, “I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country” — will be remembered as a turning point in his campaign. If he can’t, it will be the moment that encapsulated his inability to broaden his appeal.

Thompson: Biden mistakenly saying he had the endorsement of the “only” African American female senator while Kamala Harris — a black woman senator herself — was on stage right next to him. “Nope, that’s not true, the other one is here,” Harris said as she threw her hands up in bewilderment. Biden protested that he said “first” black female senator (Sen. Carol Moseley Braun) but the tape doesn’t lie: he did say “only.”

It was the most tweeted moment of the night, according to Twitter, that will reinforce Biden’s reputation as gaffe-prone. Of course, he’s been having verbal miscues for months and remains the front-runner.

How did the moderators do?

Korecki: They allowed too much time to go by without giving equitable — or even near equitable — speaking opportunities to some of the candidates. They did do a good job of following up and demanding a response to questions. However, at times they allowed candidates to go on at length, drifting off topic and devolving into stump speeches.

Otterbein: They should have let some of the back-and-forth between the candidates go longer. They should have asked Buttigieg about the report that found that some black leaders who his campaign had said endorsed his plan for black Americans had, in fact, not endorsed it. And why not ask Biden to respond to Sanders’ critiques of his support for the Iraq War?

Siders: Fine. By now, the candidates appear to have figured out how to debate without stepping on one another. The moderators came away from the debate — rightfully — having not made this about them.

Thompson: The moderators missed a few moments to let the candidates spar more and draw out real contrasts with one another. They cut off a fascinating exchange on criminal justice, drugs, and marijuana between Booker and Biden to go to a commercial break. Sanders attacked Biden for supporting the Iraq War and there was no follow-up to Biden. At other times, the moderators seemed eager to skip to the next topic just as candidates appeared on the verge of jousting.

How will this change the trajectory of the race?

Korecki: Buttigieg wasn’t a clear winner but he made a mark and it could be a sign of what’s to come. To the extent that these debates begin building a case toward electability, the South Bend mayor was able to show he could vigorously go toe to toe with just about any criticism and hold his own. He rolled out an answer to questions about his lack of elected experience: Why is Washington experience the only thing that matters?

Otterbein: The media is focused on impeachment, and this was probably the sleepiest debate so far. It’s hard to imagine this being talked about as much as some past debates were.

Siders: One shift evident Wednesday was the emphasis on identity — not ideology — as an electability argument. It was apparent in Klobuchar’s critique of gender and in the remarks about race by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. “Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried,” Booker said, reminding viewers that he has been a black voter “since I was 18.” This isn’t a one-off, but a reflection of frustration by some Democrats that the party’s electability conversations are too often centered on white, Rust Belt voters Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016.

Thompson: It won’t change much — which is probably good news for Buttigieg, who has been surging in Iowa in recent weeks. Nothing in the debate was likely to slow him down — if anything he held his own under an even brighter spotlight.

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