After much build-up of what could be a debate filled with fireworks and battles between factions of the party, the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic debate in Iowa turned out to be a rather cordial affair. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren mixed it up over the question of whether a woman can win the presidency, and yes, Joe Biden faced pushback over his foreign policy judgment in relation to his Iraq war vote in the context of the current conflict with Iran, but the overall tone remained amicable. It seemed that no candidate wanted to stick their neck too far out for fear that voters would chop it off in less than 20 days.

Here’s the full video of the debate and some analysis of the fallout.

CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic Debate (7th Debate)
Date:
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Location: Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa
Sponsors: CNN, Des Moines Register
Transcript: Debate Transcript

Full Debate Video

Update: CNN has chosen to remove the debate from YouTube and currently only make it available to watch in full at the link below from CNN.com:

Full Video Link: CNN.com

Candidates

  • Businessman and activist Tom Steyer
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

What happened on Tuesday night?

The best way to describe the overall tone of this debate was cautious. Every candidate was cautious in their attacks, fearing that coming on too strong would irritate Democratic voters eager to see attacks launched against President Trump, but not launched against fellow Democrats.

Perhaps the lesson that every candidate learned over the past few months was that taking a big gamble or launching a big attack hasn’t seemed to pay off. With such a tight race in Iowa, any little change for or against a candidate could make or break their chances.

Of the notable moments that did happen, here is the exchange between Warren and Sanders over the question of a female candidate winning the presidency:

This was not Bernie’s finest hour and Warren, with a likely well-rehearsed answer and messaging, won the day on this matter. Whether her campaign attempted to create this issue as a matter for debate discussion may truly never be known, but it certainly ended in her benefit.

On the topic of foreign policy, Joe Biden took some sharp questions and attempted to cover his record with references to President Obama.

In a roundabout way, Biden admitted and/or acknowledged in hindsight he believes his vote for the war in Iraq was a mistake because it was based on false information and false promises. The answer felt meandering at times, and it’s been a hard topic for Biden to grapple with on the campaign trail since the start of the campaign. In the end, though, voters know it, and they’re probably already looking past it.

As for the other candidates, outside of Biden, Warren, and Sanders, they each had some moments. Klobuchar went on offense several times, but did so in a lighthearted way, especially with several jabs at her progressive opponents. Her message about consensus-building being harder than espousing a far-left agenda, which, Klobuchar says has no chance of being enacted, is what matters in the race.

Pete Buttigieg delivered a solid and consistent performance, but there was nothing that stood out. He needed a spectacular night to reverse some of the slide he’s been seeing in recent polls but he left a lot on the field in terms of foreign policy. He played it very, very safe and seemed to get lost at some points, aside from his dust-up with Tom Steyer over experience.

Then, there’s Tom Steyer. His performance was solid, as it was last time. His answers were thorough, if not cookie-cutter in some respects, but his presence probably won’t do much to move the needle for him. He made the debate stage, thanks to his advertising dollars, but his support doesn’t seem very deep.

The next Democratic debate takes place on February 7, 2020. Follow the debate schedule page and the 2020 primary schedule for all the latest updates.