Who Won The First Democratic Presidential Debate?

Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke made distinct impressions as they seek the 2020 Democratic nomination.

By Rhonda FanningJune 27, 2019 7:05 am

The first national Democratic presidential debate, featuring 10 of the 20 eligible candidates, is in the books. The debate, held in Miami Wednesday night included both Texans running for president, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke. 

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, lecturer and civic engagement director at UT-Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, says viewers recognized that a Texas shootout took place. She says viewers had high expectations for former Congressman O’ Rourke, after a strong campaign in 2018 against Sen. Ted Cruz. However, she says Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, outperformed O’Rourke and set himself apart, despite coming into the contest as the lesser-known candidate.

“Last night he [O’Rourke] stumbled and he fell. And many pundits are saying that he lost this debate,” Soto says. “While at the same time, Julián Castro, who isn’t that well-known outside of Texas, really made his mark last night. He came out strong and drew a very strong contrast between him and his fellow Texan.”

O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker both answered in Spanish, after being asked questions in Spanish by moderator José Díaz-Balart. Soto says candidates used Spanish to convey a sense of inclusion to the Latino community. 

“First of all, it sends a message to the Latino electorate saying, we’re listening to you, we want to be in contact with you, we’re taking you seriously, we want to be in your corner,” Soto says. “And the second message it sends, probably as important or more, is to white progressives – it’s showing that there is a sensibility to racial and ethnic minorities.”

The debate got heated during an exchange –or lack thereof – between Castro and O’Rourke on the topic of immigration policy. Castro made remarks about O’Rourke doing ‘his homework.’ Soto says it showed that Castro is not intimidated by the O’Rourke hype.

“I think it showed that Julián Castro has depth,” Soto says. “whereas Beto O’Rourke might just be a shiny, pretty object but that’s not going to cut it for the presidential race.”

Soto says although President Donald Trump and front-running Democratic candidate, Joe Biden were scarcely mentioned during the debate, their names will likely come up more in future debates. 

“What struck out to me… was the lack of Trump in the room,” Soto says. “I mean yeah, he came up a couple of times but for the most part, the candidates were trying to highlight their own policies and a couple of elbows here and there.”

 Written by Geronimo Perez.