In the most crowded democratic primary debate in modern history, America was introduced and reintroduced to a wide range of candidates. 20 democratic candidates took the stage in Miami on June 26th and 27th: ten on each night. Each debate had a mix of candidates of different political, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Six of the twenty candidates running for president are women, with two being women of color (five candidates in total being people of color).
Political veterans such as Bernie Sanders and Joseph Biden Jr. took the stage along with candidates with no government background, like Marianne Williamson. Everyone had something to say, and everyone was determined to say something.
The rules of the debate were laid out at the start of each night: each candidate would get 45 seconds to answer a question posed to them, any other candidate mentioned could have a 30-second response, and then a ten-second rebuttal. Because of the large number of candidates, many questions were posed to all candidates to be answered via a hand raise or one-word answer.
Here’s a breakdown of what these candidates preach and what they plan to do, should they be elected into office.
Night One (June 26)
Bill de Blasio currently sits as mayor of New York City. He has served two terms. Prior to this, he spent eight years on New York City’s city council, worked as a junior staffer for Mayor Dinkins, and served as a Public Advocate.
His wife, Chirlane McCray, has been NYC’s voice for women’s rights and working families. Together, NYC’s Mayor and First Lady are raising two mixed-race children. During the first night of debates, when the conversation turned to racial injustice in America, de Blasio stepped in to speak about what it is like to be raising a black son in America.
His platforms include affordable housing, criminal justice reform, equal rights for all, and immigration reform.
Tim Ryan currently serves as a Congressman for Ohio. Prior to being elected to Congress, Ryan served on the State Senate. His background is in law. He and his wife, Andrea, an elementary school teacher, are raising three children together and therefore advocate for better public schools. This would mean creating better work environments for teachers and faculty, and investing $50 billion in federal programs to ensure that every child gets access to the same great education.
Other platforms include moving toward an “energy economy,” improving agriculture, and giving more to veterans.
With an extensive background in politics and law, Booker took the stage to speak on racial injustice and immigration reform. He believes that “if we join together and work together, we will rise together.”
During the debate, Booker made sure to center on the conversation of immigration. When asked what his very first policy would be should he be elected, he said on day one he would “end ICE policies.” This got a clearly positive reaction from the audience.
Booker, along with other candidates, broke out into Spanish during the debate.
When speaking on universal healthcare, Booker made it clear that he stands against private insurance, saying “insurance companies are criminally liable for the opioid crisis.”
Raised in San Antonio to a first-generation Hispanic-American mother, Julian Castro runs on the platform of immigration reform. He and his twin brother, Joaquin, have a background in politics and law: Julian served as a cabinet member under President Obama, and Joaquin is a Congressman.
As a second-generation Hispanic American, Castro is focusing mainly on housing and immigration reform. When prompted at the debate, he said “get rid of the Zero Tolerance Policy, the metering policy, and the Stay In Mexico policy. Put undocumented immigrants on a plan to citizenship… Don’t criminalize seeking [asylum].”
Other platforms include the current policing crisis, education, and the environmental crises happening on American soil (like in Flint, Michigan).
The evening started and ended with Elizabeth Warren’s voice. She had the first question of the night, which centered on the U.S.’s trickle-down economy. She said the current economy structure is “only working for the 1%,” meaning it is only benefiting those who have the most money in America. The middle and lower classes are perishing in the process.
That’s why Warren’s big platform is repairing the middle and working classes. She wants to raise the minimum wage, secure housing costs, and give opportunities to families of color. She hopes to “return the government to the people.” Warren also came out as a supporter of clean energy.
Beto O’Rourke kicked off his campaign in his hometown of El Paso, Texas with over 6,000 supporters on the first day. He hopes to bridge the gap between economic classes and provide equality to all people.
O’Rourke was another candidate on the debate stage that spoke Spanish as well as English. In his first answer, he spoke in Spanish and lightly translated himself to say that “the economy has to work for everyone,” not just the top 1%.
When the topic of healthcare took the stage, O’Rourke was the first to introduce the idea of allowing the public a choice between private and public health insurance. The other candidates up to this point had only spoken of universal Medicare for all, while O’Rourke pressed that the choice of private versus public is essential and part of citizens’ freedom.
Amy Klobuchar is running for president because she’s tired of divisive politics. The U.S. Senator stated that she has plans to make community colleges free, and that employers shouldn’t exclude trade schools and certifications as valid education.
Klobuchar was the only candidate on stage the first night to not fully support a universal healthcare system for the United States. She said it was “bold” and that we should instead be focused on attacking pharmaceutical companies for charging too much for prescriptions and making it too easy to get opioids. However, her website states that she is in full support of universal healthcare.
For the first time ever, a female combat veteran is running for President. Tulsi Gabbard serves as a Major in the United States Military, and was also the first female combat veteran to be elected to Congress. She also happens to be a woman of color.
After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Gabbard enlisted in the Army National Guard. She vows that, if elected president, she will “find a way to ensure that our country doesn’t continue repeating the mistakes of the past, sending our troops into war without a clear mission, strategy, or purpose.”
She also has plans to invest more tax revenue in universal healthcare coverage and the environment. She hopes to start green initiatives to ensure every person has access to clean water and air and food.
Since 2013, Jay Inslee has been the governor of Washington and has taken strides to combat climate change and create more jobs. Under Inslee, Washington has seen an improvement in the state economy, more early childhood education programs, and an increased minimum wage.
Inslee created a Clean Energy Fund for Washington, which has invested “over $100 million in developing innovative energy tech and growing the clean energy [industry].” His platform is entirely based on clean energy and a better environment: 100% clean energy for America, an “Evergreen Economy,” and freedom from fossil fuels are just a few of his policy issues.
Congressman Delaney has created two New York Stock Exchange companies and was the youngest CEO on the NYSE at the time. He believes that the skills he learned through being a businessman have helped him be a better congressman.
He currently serves in Congress for Maryland’s 6th district, and he says that he is still running today on the same platforms that got him elected in 2012: a unified economy, utilizing rural America, and ending the opioid epidemic.
His other platforms include a national AI strategy, gun safety, equal rights, and college affordability.
Night Two (June 27)
An author rather than a politician, Marianne Williamson made her political debut on night two of the debates. As a young girl, Williamson traveled around the world with her family. She believes this instilled in her early on that all people are essentially the same.
While Williamson was not directly asked any questions during the debate, she did respond to others’ answers. She emphasized her disappointment in no one focusing on the goal: get Trump out of office.
Williamson believes she is the best person for president because she isn’t a seasoned politician. She believes that the “same old, same old” isn’t working anymore and someone with new ideas needs to come in and create something better. She is very concerned with child advocacy, mass incarceration, and justice for indigenous people.
Former Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper is very concerned with the state of the U.S. economy and infrastructure. Hickenlooper was the first mayor to be elected governor in Colorado in over 120 years. As mayor, he “eliminated a $70 million budget deficit without layoffs or major service cuts—though he did reduce his own salary by 25%.” He was the underdog; Hickenlooper never ran a negative ad and surprised everyone by winning by a landslide.
At the debate, Hickenlooper called out Bernie Sanders, claiming that he could lead the country better than Sanders because Hickenlooper wouldn’t create such a massive expansion of government. “The bottom line is if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can.”
A first-generation Taiwanese American and self-proclaimed entrepreneur, Andrew Yang is the first and only candidate this year to suggest a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Despite not having a career in politics, Yang says he does understand the economy and knows how to fix it.
When asked what his first move as president would be, Yang said to implement his UBI plan: $1,000 a month to every American over the age of 18 with no strings attached, “paid for by a new tax on the companies benefiting most from automation.” His goal is to put the people first.
Yang’s campaign website is very comprehensive with plans spelled out. His biggest policies include universal healthcare, the UBI, and human-centered capitalism.
In his final year as Mayor of South Bend, In., Pete Buttigieg has decided to continue serving America and run for president. He was only 29 years old when elected mayor in 2011, and was reelected by a landslide vote (80%) in 2015. According to his website, Buttigieg has “more years of government experience than the president, more years of executive government experience than the vice president, and more military experience than anybody to walk into the Oval Office since President George H. W. Bush.”
Buttigieg served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and spent seven unpaid months of his mayoral term deployed overseas. Because of his military background, Buttigieg is very concerned with security and the protection of freedom. He hopes to combat climate change, protect women’s reproductive rights, and repair America’s infrastructure.
The Indiana mayor and his husband are also highly concerned with protecting LGBTQIA+ rights. Buttigieg will reverse the transgender military ban put in place by Trump. He knows that “our families, communities, and nation are stronger when we allow all individuals to be true to who they are. A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not limit them from pursuing their dreams and realizing their full potential…”
Joe Biden has been in the public eye for some time now. From a public defender in Wilmington, De., to one of the youngest people elected to the U.S. Senate at age 29, to Vice President under President Obama, Joe Biden is definitely a career politician.
Biden believes that rebuilding the middle class is the key to restoring America’s glory. He says “this country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by the American middle class.” How will he do it? By ensuring healthcare and living wages for every American.
Fellow candidate Kamala Harris called Biden out at the debate for his past of supporting racist policies in the Senate. Unfortunately, in his 30-second response, he ran out of time before getting to defend his decisions fully.
Another career politician, Bernie Sanders is again running for president and is determined to win. A self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Sanders currently serves on the U.S. Senate for his home state of Vermont. Sanders doesn’t just want equality for all, but justice for all.
Sanders’s big platform, which is the same as his platform from 2016, is Medicare for all. He says “whether you like it or not, the United States will join every other major country on earth and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. All Americans are entitled to go to the doctor when they’re sick and not go bankrupt after staying in the hospital.”
His other major platform is cancelling all student debt and making public higher education free. This means community colleges, trade schools, and public universities will come at no tuition cost to students. He also wants to invest taxes into paying off the $1.6 trillion student debt in America.
Kamala Harris is the second African-American woman ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She is also the first woman and first African-American person to serve as Attorney General of California. She is a strong advocate for a $15 minimum wage, addressing high housing costs, and free higher education.
Harris fights for equal opportunities for women and minorities, and for equal healthcare to employees from private insurance companies.
During the debate, she called out Biden for being in favor of bussing in California, which was an act to further segregate black children from white children. She said that not only was it racist, but hurt her personally, as she was affected by the bussing in California as a young girl.
Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign slogan is “Brave Wins.” The New York senator is only the sixth woman to have ever given birth while serving on the Senate. In fact, she went into labor during a twelve-hour Armed Services Committee meeting. It was her grandmother and mother that inspired her to fight for women’s rights. Both women served their communities as democratic activists and organized public service projects for women. Gillibrand “has made it her life’s mission to support and empower more women to step up and run for office.”
Her big platforms are supporting women and families, getting corruption and greed out of the government, and keeping America safe.
Before being appointed as a senator in Colorado, Michael Bennet served as the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. He has a strong background in education and has worked to reform No Child Left Behind.
Mild-mannered Bennet entered the public eye with his Ted Cruz speech, and proved he isn’t afraid to voice an unpopular opinion when necessary. Rachel Maddow calls Bennet mild-mannered and quiet but commends him on “yelling himself hoarse” about topics he feels strongly about.
Bennet says that America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but that it doesn’t feel that way now. That’s why he hopes to drive economic opportunity back to the middle class, restore American values, and fix America’s broken political system.
After earning a soccer scholarship, Eric Swalwell became the first in his family to attend college. He had an internship on Capitol Hill in 2001, which coincided with the attacks on 9/11. Experiencing the terrorist attacks firsthand cemented his desire to have a career in public service. For the last six years, Swalwell has served as a California congressman. His first legislative achievement was “creating a public-private college scholarship program for students who lost parents in the attacks.”
His big platform is to end gun violence. Congressman Swalwell knows that gun reform will save lives and protect minorities. He plans to ban and buy back semi-automatic weapons as a start.
After two nights of debates, America has a lot to consider. While many of the seasoned politicians have great ideas, so do the candidates with little to no government experience. This certainly won’t be the last America hears of these candidates, even if they don’t qualify for the next round of debates.
The biggest takeaway is that nearly every candidate on stage wants to return America to its former glory, give more opportunity to the people, and get Trump out of office.
By Megan Clark
Cover Image by Javier Zarracina for Vox