The 10 Democratic front-runners took the stage Thursday at 8 p.m.
Progressive Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders shared the stage for the first time with establishment favorite Joe Biden in a prime-time showdown that displayed opposing notions of electability in the party’s presidential nomination fight.
They were joined by the next tier of candidates, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Rounding out the field were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro, both from Texas, and New York venture capitalist Andrew Yang, who made a surprising offer in the opening minutes that helped him grab attention on social media.
Here were the top moments.
Buttigieg’s recalls emotional coming out
In response to a final question about their biggest professional setback that elicited the most human responses from the candidates — and a moment to finally depart from the talking points — Mayor Pete Buttigieg had perhaps the most memorable answer.
“As a military officer serving Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and as an elected official in the state of Indiana when Mike Pence was governor, at a certain point, when it came to professional setbacks, I had to wondering whether just acknowledging who I was going to be the ultimate career-ending professional setback,” he said.
It was a historic moment: a candidate for president discussing coming out on the debate stage.
But, Buttigieg said, after he revealed that he was gay he was still re-elected by a wide margin.
“What I learned is trust can be reciprocated and part of how you can win, and deserve to win, is to know what’s worth more to you than winning.”
Biden tells America to make sure they have their ‘record player on at night’
It wouldn’t be a debate if Biden didn’t stump people with a strange turn of phrase.
The frontrunner was active and involved all night, returning attacks and dishing out his own retorts. But what had Twitter talking was a strange suggestion poor families should keep the record player on at night to make their kids smarter.
Here’s the gist of Biden’s argument: Kids coming from poor backgrounds hear 4 million fewer words by the time they get to school than kids in better financial circumstances (here’s what PolitiFact had to say about that).
Bring social workers into the home to teach underprivileged parents how to raise kids. Fine. But also: “Play the radio. Make sure the television, excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night.”
Candidates weigh in on Maduro, Venezuela
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been criticized by Florida Republicans and Democrats for refusing to call Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a dictator.
And tonight, moderator Jorge Ramos, a host on Univision, singled Sanders out for it."You refuse to call Nicolas Maduro un dictador, a dictator,” Moderator Jorge Ramos, a host on Univision “Can you explain why?”
And he asked Sanders, a democratic socialist, how his kind of socialism compares to the ones “being imposed in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua."
“Let me be clear,” Sanders replied. “Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant.”
"To equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair,” he added.
He said he believes in the kind of socialism that goes on in Canada and Scandinavia, such as paid family and medical leave.
But Sanders didn’t call Maduro a tyrant.
That left former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro to pounce.
“I’ll call Maduro a dictator,” Castro said, “Because he is a dictator.”
Warren takes Inslee’s environmental platform, Yang proposes “democracy dollars”
Climate change was quickly discussed but accepted by many candidates as one of the worst existential threats facing the country.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlighted one major update since the last debate: that she embraced the environmental platform of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month after he dropped out of the race.
"As long as Washington is paying more attention to money than it is to our future, we cannot make the changes we need to make,” Warren said.
Yang then jumped in, saying “money finds a way.”
To counter that, his administration would give each person $100 in “democracy dollars” to donate to their favorite political candidates, which would counter corporate gifts, he said.
Candidates call Trump a racist:
Under normal circumstances, it would be shocking and notable if a politician called the American president a racist during a nationally televised debate.
But in the field of Democratic contenders, such criticisms of the president have become commonplace. And on Thursday, with the country watching, they continued to call out Donald Trump’s racist tendencies.
Sen. Cory Booker: “We know Donald Trump is a racist, but there is no red badge of courage for calling him that.”
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke: “We have a white supremacist in the White House and he poses a mortal threat to people of color across this country.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: “He didn’t pull the trigger (in El Paso), but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”
Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro: Trump “Inspired people to kill people who look like me.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg: “What’s deepened divisions in this country is the conduct of this president and we have a chance to change all of that.”
Beto: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47”
With the debate at Texas Southern University, it was only a matter of time before the conversation turned to the recent mass shooting in El Paso.
Beto O’Rourke, the city’s former U.S. Representative, continued to be one of the most forceful voices in calling for systematic change after the massacre. Asked why he supported a mandatory buyback of military-style firearms, O’Rourke recounted the carnage many witnessed that day at the hands of such weapons.
He then emphatically declared: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” It was the biggest applause line of the night. O’Rourke’s nine competitors often credited the former Congressman for his passionate and response in the aftermath of the shooting. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar reminded the audience that the people on the stage were almost all pushing for the same gun reforms.
“Everyone up here favors an assault weapons ban,” she said. “Everyone up here favors magazine limitations, which by the way would’ve made a huge difference in El Paso.”
‘That’s called a Democratic primary election’
Early in the debate, a distinction emerged between candidates that sought to carve out voters through urging party unity and those who were going for the throat.
Klobuchar was perhaps the most strongly calling for unity, along with O’Rourke and Booker.
“Every one of my colleagues on this stage believes in universal health care and comes here with the best of intentions,” Booker said near the end of a bickering session. “This is a moment where we … can find common ground.”
Harris also pitched for the Democrats to come together, but chose to do so by looking directly into the camera and calling out President Donald Trump.
That kumbaya tone contrasted with Castro and Biden, who both attacked other debaters including each other ― which reached a peak when Castro accused Biden of “forgetting what you said just two minutes ago” and then claimed he was the rightful heir to President Barack Obama’s healthcare legacy.
An exasperated Buttigieg then said: “"This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable."
Castro shot back: “That’s called a Democratic primary election.”
The Castro-Biden exchange became fodder for pundits immediately after the debate, many of which said Castor was taking a shot at Biden’s age.
Biden mixes it up with Sanders
Health care is dominating the first hour of the debate.
And from the start, Biden went after the Medicare-for-all idea supported by Sanders and Warren.
And one moment seemed to get to the heart of the divide.
“Let us be clear Joe, in the United States of America we are spending twice per capita as much on healthcare as the Canadians and any other country on earth,” Sanders said.
”This is America,” Biden replied.
“Yeah, but Americans don’t want to pay twice as much,” Bernie said, adding, "maybe you run into people who love their premiums. I haven’t.”
A few moments later, Biden said Sanders’ plan would kick union workers off their insurance.
Bernie said the savings from businesses would go back to the workers in the form of higher wages.
Biden had this reply: “For a socialist you got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”
Amendment 4 callback?
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar appeared to reference Florida’s fight over Amendment 4, which voters approved last year allowing felons to vote.
“Let’s reduce those sentences for nonviolent offenders and let’s get them jobs and let them vote when they get out of prison,” Klobuchar said.
Biden echoed it moments later.
“When you finish your term in prison, you should be able not only to vote but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing,” he said.
‘It’s original, I’ll give you that.'
Yang already surprised many by making it all the way to the third debate.
But he had a new twist Thursday night: His campaign will give $1,000 to 10 families over the next year. It’s a riff off the proposal that has kept his longshot bid in the spotlight: a universal income of $1,000 for all Americans every month to guarantee no one lives in poverty and the middle class lives comfortably.
Yang encouraged supporters to go to his website and sign up for the lottery, “if you believe you can solve your own problems better than any politicians.”
That’s one way to get people on your email list. There was a long pause as the shock of the announcement (which was leaked shortly before the debate) sunk in.
“It’s original, I’ll give you that,” Buttigieg said with a grin.
Stay here for all the highlights.