By Al Giordano
Tonight’s begin begins at 9 p.m. ET, live from St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is broadcast live on ABC and on ABC.com, which runs also on Amazon Prime and other streaming services as well.
In a few minutes we’ll get started. Logged-in Subscribers can comment and read the backstage commentary. My own live commentary will be available to the public, whether logged in or not. Remember to click refresh regularly to update the newest in-the-moment analysis.
8:07 p.m. ET: I’m not sure Joe Biden’s best foot forward is to say, “We took a big hit in Iowa and we’ll probably take a hit here.” It smacks of defeatism. What happened to Joe Biden, “the Happy Warrior?”
8:13 p.m. ET: The moderators starting the debate off with a question of the inside baseball over “how to win” have made it a pretty boring debate in the opening minutes.
8:15 p.m. ET: Buttigieg’s opening is the best so far: “I’m not interested in labels. I’m not interested in what the Republicans are going to say.”
8:19 p.m. ET: Bernie seems to be shouting the same words as every time, only more shouty. I just see that ‘Discover Channel’ bellowing referenced in the debate preview today.
8:20 p.m. ET: And now we have Shouty Joe!
8:21 p.m. ET: Welcome to the Muppet Show, starring Statler and Waldorf. Sigh.
8:23 p.m. ET: Klobuchar is on fire! Calling for “building on the Affordable Care Act.” The votes she takes if she connects will be from Buttigieg and Biden.
8:25 p.m. ET: Warren doing Warren problem-solver things is good Warren.
8:26 p.m. ET: Buttigieg, channeling Jimmy Carter (who won NH) with the Washington outsider pitch.
8:27 p.m. ET: Biden: “I don’t know what was so horrible about the past with Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
8:28 p.m. ET: There are two sub-contests here: Buttigieg v Biden v Klobuchar, and Sanders v. Warren. So far the first lane seems more fluid and Senator Amy is getting the better of the two guys.
8:29 p.m. ET: “…and watch cartoons.” Oh, snap!
8:35 p.m. ET: Everybody going after Mayor Pete only serves to provide a social cue to the audience that he’s the “alpha” on stage, as referenced in my debate preview today. He’s might not like some of the zingers that have come his way, but he’s gotta love being the center of attention.
8:37 p.m. ET: Talk about lobbing a softball to Warren (however unwittingly). The “investigate Trump?” question brings the debate smack onto her anti-corruption turf.
8:39 p.m. ET: One of our backstage commentators, who goes by the handle of Clickstop, has an excellent observation: “Wish these debates weren’t being held in such large venues that the candidates feel compelled to over-emphasize words and gestures for the crowd. So far Buttigieg has scaled his performance the best for the TV screen.”
8:44 p.m. ET: Good moment for Biden with “Stand up and clap for Admiral Vindman.” Shows, not tells, the best of Joe. What a contrast with Jeb Bush’s “please clap (for me).”
8:45 p.m. ET: Following up with the opposite kind of message, Bernie, trying to be funny, correcting the Klobuchar-Sanders amendment as “the Sanders-Klobuchar” amendment. Telling.
8:46 p.m. ET: Receipts! Drink!
8:48 p.m. ET: Sanders going back to House record to show receipts? C’mon.
8:52 p.m. ET: From 538, speaking time at the 40 minute mark:
8:57 p.m. ET: Warren responding to a question about her previous statements about “endless war in Afghanistan.” Whatever one thinks of her answers, she leaves no doubt she understands the military and foreign policy details that a president must have command of.
9:03 p.m. ET: Our backstage commenter, Kurt, found the receipt on what Sanders insisted, correcting Klobuchar, the “Sanders-Klobuchar amendment. Um… oops!
9:06 p.m. ET: Really hard so far to tell how this debate shapes the voter choices on Tuesday, each of them is pulling distinct moving heartstrings of the Democratic electorate, on Obama, on War and Peace, and other matters.
9:10 p.m. ET: Now that we’ve had a break I took a breath and thought what are my general impressions: Amy, funny and sparky and striking perhaps the best balance between substantive and forceful. Bernie, Joe, Steyer: Shouty. Too much so. Elizabeth and Pete: Best at being presidential. Andrew Yang? Hello? Is he still on stage? Did Thanos snap him in the middle of the show?
9:23 p.m. ET: On the one hand, I find Biden’s boasts about what “I” did bad form, because it makes it about him. On the other, I feel badly for him, because I like him and appreciate so much about his life and work. I don’t think he is advancing his candidacy tonight. Still, the licks he got in on Sanders have gotta burn.
9:29 p.m. ET: The issue by issue button points are all well and good but I think we all know where they stand already. What the moderators aren’t giving room for – and why they need people like, say, Anderson Cooper who have that human touch on stage asking questions – is to create space for each to show us A. their vision for governing and B. who they really are. The candidate that figures that out first and gets back to that will see some dividends by doing so. That’s what voters want to know: who they really are. That’s getting lost in this format.
9:34 p.m. ET: “Who can win Minnesota?” Um…
9:38 p.m. ET: Buttigieg is very good on drug policy and how he frames it. He may take some young Sanders voters with that (although getting worked over for his police department’s failings neutralize that somewhat). But whenever they try to talk about drug policy I find myself missing Beto O’Rourke on stage. He understood drug issues better than everyone on that stage together.
9:41 p.m. ET: Okay, remember a few comments back when I said somebody has to break through and show us who they are and their value system? Warren just did that with her passion for racial and criminal justice reform. Good move.
9:42 p.m. ET: It is also a sign of progress that in white New Hampshire in 2020 they have to talk about racial justice issues. That’s new, and it shows how public opinion has moved in white America – at least among Democratic voters. We often focus on how bad things are but that’s one sign of how some things have evolved.
9:45 p.m. ET: It only lasts for a second or two but there have been a few moments tonight when Biden was speaking, including just now, when I worried he might just collapse on stage. That scene from Magnolia when the game show host fell down comes to mind. At this point I’m just rooting for him to stay on his feet.
9:48 p.m. ET: Oh come on, moderator. Nina Turner is on Sanders’ *paid staff*. He bears direct responsibility for everything she does and says in that capacity. Calling her a mere surrogate is misleading.
9:49 p.m. ET: On the other hand, my old pal Jim Carville probably hates this debate for such a heavy focus on issues that aren’t as directly personal to New Hampshire voters.
9:52 p.m. ET: It seems that the debate is also pitching hard to the South Carolina primary, which is also good politics, but not necessarily for winning NH on Tuesday.
9:55 p.m. ET: Mayor Pete and Andrew Yang have seemed to switch places in the invisible lane.
9:56 p.m. ET: Warren with another breakthrough moment, showing her values, and with added value of a hat tip to sister Amy. And then tells people to go pitch in at ElizabethWarren.com. A three-fer!
9:59 p.m. ET: AmyKlobuchar.com! Drink! (I want to give to both tonight!)
10 p.m. ET: Bernie: I already have all the money. No need to give my web site.
10:01 p.m. ET: Mayor Pete coming in hot after his nap!
10:06 p.m. ET: Steyer: I gotta agree with Bernie. I don’t have to add shade to New Hampshire’s two wildly popular women senators, but I need attention and damn it if that’s how I can get it, I will!
10:08 p.m. ET: This has been a pet peeve of mine for decades, voting against something good because it isn’t perfect is what kills us over and over again. Good for Warren and Klobuchar for pushing back on that infantile crap. It’s the worst of the faux-left.
10:10 p.m. ET: Sanders so willfully allowing himself to be pitted against NH Senators Shaheen and Hassan may prove a key moment. All politics is local. Also really bad optics on his women voters problem already well established.
10:12 p.m. ET: Biden has totally faded and my guess is that Klobuchar will pick up some of his NH voters tonight.
10:21 p.m. ET: While I just said Biden had faded he has spoken more words than anyone else in the debate. So there’s that.
10:26 p.m. ET: Amy’s FDR reference I’ve heard before. But this is the first time she turned the “he knew me” into “I know you.” Great closing pitch. I wonder if it will move the meter for her.
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