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Biden took a stunning beating on the debate stage, and now the Democratic primary is wide open



Senator Kamala Harris is interviewed in the

  • Democratic 2020 frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden took a stunning beating on the debate stage on Thursday night at the hands of Sen. Kamala Harris. 
  • Biden has avoided high-profile interviews and only spoke on times and topics of his choosing.
  • One of those topics was his close relationship to segregationists, which became a self-inflicted and serious wound.
  • After two debates, frontrunners have failed to establish their dominance, while lesser-known candidates have had breakout moments.
  • As of Friday morning, the Democratic primary is wide open and more unpredictable than ever. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in the race to be the Democratic nominee for 2020, took a stunning beating on the debate stage on Thursday night, leaving the historically large primary wide open.

Biden, who has avoided several high-profile interviews, stood center stage at the debate on Thursday night which afforded him opening and closing statements, but also made him a target.

From there, Biden endured jabs about his support for the Iraq war, Barack Obama’s legacy as a “deporter-in-chief,” and some of his own, more recent statements.

Particularly, Biden came under fire for comments he meant to highlight his ability to reach across the aisle with civility.

Harris destroyed Biden

Kamala Harris/Joe Biden

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” a famous segregationist, Biden said at a recent fundraiser. Biden said. “Well guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished.”

But Biden in 1972 voted with Eastland and other senators who didn’t wish to see white and black schools integrated. The vote was to oppose busing, the practice of achieving diversity in schools by busing children from majority black neighborhoods to majority white schools, and sometimes vice versa.

Harris, herself an African and Indian-American who was bused to school in a similar program, said she was “hurt” by Biden’s comments.

“It’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States Senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said. “You worked with them to oppose busing.”

 “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats.”

After thunderous applause for Harris’ critique, Biden responded that Harris had mischaracterized Biden’s vote on busing.

Biden then said he had opposed a federal mandate for schools to integrate via busing, but that the local decision that allowed Harris to be bused to a different school would not have been affected.

But Harris continued to press Biden, asking him to admit that he was wrong on the busing issue.

Biden responded that he “did not oppose busing in America” and instead “opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education.”

Read more: The 5 most interesting Google Trends from day 2 of the first 2020 Democratic debates

Harris then said that segregation demanded a federal intervention because some states resisted integration. She then said that the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had been federal initiatives, suggesting that desegregation issues should have fallen under the same purview.

Historically, states like Georgia had to have martial law declared multiple times before it finally integrated.

“There are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people,” said Harris in an emphatic end to her line of questioning which brought on extended applause.

Biden, allowed to respond, said that he had supported civil rights his whole career, but in breaking with the trend of candidates pushing for as much speaking time as possible, Biden abruptly stopped talking.

Perhaps prophetically, once the moderators indicated to Biden it was time to move on to the next question, he said “anyway, my time is up. I’m sorry.”

Sanders, Warren hold on

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the first U.S. 2020 presidential election Democratic candidates debate in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Bernie Sanders, the consistent number two in polling, spent much of the night duking it out with more moderate candidates over his identity as a democratic socialist.

Sanders also faced direct questions about taxation, and after some probing admitted he would raise taxes on the middle class to fund better healthcare, something he says would save money overall.

Read more: Trump piles in on Bernie Sanders and ‘exhausted’ Joe Biden after shaky Democratic 2020 debate performances

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the number three best-polling candidate and the frontrunner in her debate, held her own and rattled off concise policy positions one after another. But neither Sanders or Warren remained the focus of the debate for long.

Breakout stars

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., second from left, hugs Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., hugs former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at the end of a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami. In between them is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Sen. Corey Booker, polling just around 3%, dominated in terms of speaking time and made an impression on voters, as judged by their Google searches. Julián Castro also made himself known and garnered positive press attention following the debate.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, whose polling tracks closely with Harris, appeared to have a moment of nearly unprecedented honesty in primary debates, admitting tragic failure in managing his city’s police force after a white police officer killed an unarmed black man.

It’s unclear so far if Buttigieg’s contrite response won him any fans.

Anyone’s game

Democratic presidential candidate former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, third from left, answers a question, during a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

What is clear so far is that the frontrunner, Biden, suffered stunningly effective blows on an issue his campaign which he should have seen coming. Additionally, the fact that it was Biden’s choice to talk up his relationship with avowed segregationists makes it a self-inflicted wound. 

Biden holds a whopping 30% at the polls among 25 other candidates, so it’s his election to lose.

The debates on Wednesday and Thursday night showed that anything can happen, with lesser-known candidates like Harris putting on strong showings and putting Biden on the defensive.

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