On the first night of the second round of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit, Texas natives Beto O’Rourke and Marianne Williamson took the stage, along with eight other hopefuls. They included frontrunners Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. A second group of 10 candidates will debate Wednesday night. Observers were watching Tuesday for signs of strength among the candidates, as well as how they would take on President Donald Trump.
Richard Pineda is the director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. He says former Congressman O’Rourke improved his performance since the first debate when he squared off against former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro on immigration. Pineda says on Tuesday, O’Rourke and other candidates looking for a higher profile didn’t necessarily make inroads.
“I think for [O’Rourke], I think for [South Bend, Indiana] Mayor [Pete] Buttigieg, I think they stayed at about the status quo in terms of points,” Pineda says.
O’Rourke called Texas a “battleground” state, pointing out that during his Senate campaign in 2018, he had visited all of the state’s 254 counties. Pineda says O’Rourke could be angling for a spot as a vice presidential running mate who could potentially deliver Texas to a Democratic ticket.
“I think that’s a turn for their campaign,” Pineda says. “I think there’s a little bit of hubris in making the case that you can deliver those electoral votes. But it certainly does distinguish him, internally, for the party as they start to think about what these tickets will look like.”
Pineda says Warren maintained her frontrunner status, perhaps even improving her position with respect to Sanders, on the left.
But, Pineda says, the debate format didn’t lend itself to substantive discussions among candidates.
“The closer we get to the Sept. 3 debate, the more candidates that will have dropped out, we certainly will be treated to a little more insight,” he says. “I think it was a tough night when you can say Marianne Williamson was punching well above her weight, because she has nothing to lose. So, to a certain extent, her radical truth-telling resonated.”
Castro will join nine other candidates onstage Wednesday. Pineda says Castro’s challenge will be to stand out in a field that will likely be dominated by former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Kamala Harris. Their sparring dominated the first-round debate, when the two appeared alongside Castro and O’Rourke.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.