Even with three hours of debating — picking a winner among 12 presidential hopefuls can be a tough ask.
With the shots and arguments now subdued, however, national analysts have released their thoughts on who won and lost Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio.
The consensus among almost all outlets was that the stage was mostly owned by South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
While the winners were more clear-cut, picking a definitive loser differed more between analysts – ranging from frontrunners Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, to bottom dwellers Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer.
Here’s what some of those analysts had to say:
CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza said he believed Buttigieg and Klobuchar were the biggest winners Tuesday night, followed by tech executive Andrew Yang and Sen. Bernier Sanders of Vermont.
On the flip, he slated frontrunners, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusets, and former vice president Joe Biden as the nights two biggest losers, along with Sen. Kamala Harris of California and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.
Here was his reasoning in choosing some of his winners and losers from the night, in short.
WINNER - Pete Buttigieg: The South Bend mayor had one clear goal in the debate: Hit Elizabeth Warren on her support for “Medicare for All,” and make sure Democratic voters knew he had an alternate plan that would not eliminate the private health insurance market. Mission accomplished. His response to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s call to end “endless wars” was powerful, leaning heavily on his own military service. He slammed former Rep. Beto O’Rourke on gun control, with one of the lines of the night: “I don’t need lessons from you in courage, political or personal.”
LOSER - Elizabeth Warren: Welcome to being the front-runner! Buttigieg started things off by attacking her on Medicare for All -- and Warren was unable to provide a clear answer on a) whether she would raise taxes on middle-class Americans and b) if not, how would she find the money to pay for the plan. The hits kept coming. Also, Warren saying that she’d like to see the US military presence gone entirely from the Middle East is going to come back to haunt her.
Vox analysts slated Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg as winners on Tuesday night. It said its biggest losers were Biden and Gabbard.
WINNER - Bernie Sanders: Bernie entered this debate on the ropes. After spending most of the campaign solidly in second place behind Joe Biden in national polls, he is now a distant third behind Biden and Elizabeth Warren. He’s also in third in Iowa (which he nearly won in 2016) and in New Hampshire (which he won in 2016 in a huge landslide). By the numbers, he seems to be underperforming his last run, despite having a vastly more professional campaign infrastructure and not facing a juggernaut like Hillary Clinton. He was more animated and on his game than much younger candidates like Tulsi Gabbard or Amy Klobuchar. He was more effective than Warren at defending the Medicare-for-all plan they both support (but which, he’s quick to note, he wrote), replying to concerns about its realism.
LOSER - Tulsi Gabbard: The congresswoman from Hawaii has premised her entire candidacy on fierce opposition to US military adventurism abroad. Tonight, she had a chance to distinguish herself during a lengthy foreign policy debate — and made a series of blatantly false statements. First, she described the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, which is controlled by America’s Kurdish allies. The US is not waging a war of regime change in Syria (as Biden pointed out later in the debate). American troops are in northern Syria assisting Kurdish forces in combating the ISIS presence in the country. When Buttigieg challenged her shaky analysis, saying that “the slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal,” she accused him of supporting “endless war.” His response was succinct and devastating: “You can put an end to endless war without embracing Donald Trump’s policy, as you’re doing.”
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USA TODAY analysts picked Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg as the night’s biggest winners. The paper named Tom Steyer, who was performing in his first presidential debate, as the night’s biggest loser. It also deemed issues — such as immigration and climate change — that weren’t discussed Tuesday night as losers.
WINNER - Amy Klobuchar: Sen. Amy Klobuchar came out punching. The Minnesota Democrat wasn’t afraid to criticize other candidates, in particular, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Klobuchar, who has struggled to get a word in during past debates, went out of her way to differentiate her more moderate policies from the more progressive stances. Although she’s done the same in past debates, she has never been this forceful. The tactic might pay off. Klobuchar has yet to make the November debate stage and this may be the push she needs.
WINNER - Pete Buttigieg: South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg was also ready to take some of his more progressive competitors to task on their policies. Buttigieg used forceful rhetoric during the debate to showcase his more moderate proposals. Buttigieg, who over the past week has hit Warren on Medicare for All, did so again on Tuesday’s debate stage. He criticized Warren for not fully answering whether she will raise taxes for voters for her Medicare for All plan, claiming it is an example of why people are “so frustrated with Washington.”
LOSER - Tom Steyer: This was his debut on a debate stage and his first impression wasn’t all that impressive. He couldn’t gain any real momentum beyond the talk of impeachment, which he has been calling for since 2017. He founded Need to Impeach, a group with the singular goal of impeaching Trump. Since then, he has pumped millions of dollars into the group.
Politico’s panel of analysts listed their biggest winners of the night as Klobuchar and Buttigieg, saying the two ‘centrist, Midwestern candidates went after Warren with a vengeance all night.’ They did pick Buttigieg as the outright winner, however, with Klobuchar as a ‘close second.’ Here’s what they liked about Mayor Pete specifically and what they didn’t about Biden’s performance.
WINNER - Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg won the debate tonight, and Klobuchar came in a close second. Mayor Pete did not shy away from mixing it up with his opponents. He was ready to go after Warren’s health care plan and O’Rourke’s gun plan. As a veteran, he showed not only expertise but also strength in his Syria answer. Buttigieg spent the first months of the presidential primary campaign showing us how smart and steeped in policy he is, and tonight he showed us that he is also a fighter. Buttigieg stood out tonight in terms of his ability not only to land punches on other candidates, but also to sell himself in a way that I think will appeal to what I’m guessing will, by Iowa caucus night, be an increased group of disenchanted independents and Republicans who will look to participate in the Democratic primary process after reaching their boiling point with President Trump.
LOSER - Joe Biden: Biden lost the debate tonight simply because he disappeared. He was outdone on the issues where he should have led: foreign policy and health care. We will see if the debate changes the race, but certainly voters will take a hard look at Buttigieg and Klobuchar. With the focus on Warren, Biden vanished from stretches of this debate, yet when he did surface he tended not to offer crisp responses. His best answer came on Russia, but even that involved more bluster than cogency. By constantly citing his extensive professional credentials, Biden runs the risk of positioning himself as a relic of the past.
While Business Insider said Buttigieg was the clear winner Tuesday night, it also praised Sanders for looking strong throughout the three-hour debate so soon after suffering a heart attack.
WINNER - Pete Buttigieg: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had the strongest performance of the night. He was aggressive and had the second most attacks on other candidates of all of those on the stage, according to an analysis from NBC News. This can be a risky strategy, but it paid off for Buttigieg on issues like foreign policy. Buttigieg, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, had a heated exchange with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq War, on Trump’s recent decision to abandon US-allied Kurdish forces in Syria. At 37, Buttigieg is the youngest candidate running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but he came off as a seasoned, intrepid politician on Tuesday night.
LOSERS - Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke: Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke were the biggest losers of the night. Biden stumbled through many of his responses, and offered a lukewarm defense of criticism over his son’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company while he was vice president. Biden has struggled to fend off these attacks, and that trend continued on the debate stage on Tuesday. O’Rourke, whose campaign has been dwindling in recent months, barely had a presence during the debate. He offered a tepid defense of his proposal to ban AR-15s, and that was perhaps the only moment he stood apart from the rest of the candidates.
Jim Geraghty of the National Review said only Buttigieg and Klobuchar stood out and brought their A-games during what was a “slow, plodding night.”
WINNER - Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg has always turned in well-prepared performances; if his previous nights had any problem, it was that they were smooth to the point of slickness; he still has that vibe of listening to a presentation from McKinsey Consulting. But if tonight was the pressure night for most of the second tier, with other candidates eager to promise the moon, Buttigieg seemed like the relaxed voice of reason. He also appears to be the lone candidate in these debates to tangle with Tulsi Gabbard, veteran against veteran on the issue of the Middle East and national security, and live to tell the tale. Every candidate tries to tell personal stories about what shaped their values, but Buttigieg does this better than most with his discussion of growing up in South Bend and serving in Afghanistan.
WINNER - Amy Klobuchar: Where has this Klobuchar been all this campaign? She was lively, common-sense, and pugnacious, particularly with Warren. Most of the other candidates are now in the state where they’re terrified of telling any primary voters anything they don’t want to hear, so they promise all things to all people, and that none of it will require any sacrifices or offsets. The corny humor and jokes about nagging her daughter would probably work in a general-election battle in the Midwest. And when Klobuchar went after Warren, you would have thought the Massachusetts senator was a staffer who had fouled up Klobuchar’s lunch.