The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate

The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate
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The Hill’s Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate

Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your weekly rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We’re Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley. Here’s what we’re watching this week on the campaign trail.



POST DEBATE RUNDOWN: Happy Friday! The third Democratic primary debate is in the books! There were a number of standout moments from the nearly three-hour showdown in Houston, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) declaring, "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro accusing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment Biden: 'I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears' than anyone else running MORE of not fulfilling former President Obama’s legacy on health care (Ouch!).


But don’t get too excited about those fiery exchanges. While O’Rourke has gotten attention for talking about gun control in the wake of last month’s El Paso shooting, recent history shows that single-issue candidates (ahem, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Calif.) and Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE) don’t have the longest shelf lives in campaigns. Plus, O’Rourke has continued to trail in the polls, despite a number of passionate speeches and exchanges on the campaign trail on gun control.

Meanwhile, Castro’s attacks on Biden fell flat, and came across to many as mean and bitter. A number of analysts concluded that one of the lowest moments of the debate came when Castro appeared to hit Biden, 76, on his age, accusing him of forgetting details of health care policy.

So how did the three front-runners fare?

While Biden appeared to go on the offensive more than he has in past debates, he, along with his progressive opponents, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTech firms face skepticism over California housing response Press: Another billionaire need not apply Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick mulling 2020 run: report MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden: 'I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears' than anyone else running Press: Another billionaire need not apply Saagar Enjeti dismisses Warren, Klobuchar claims of sexism MORE (D-Mass.), continued to lay out their plans and policy proposals.

The exchange between the three on health care was one of the high points of the evening, and gave voters a chance to see two different philosophies within the party. If the candidates are smart, they will continue to engage in thoughtful discussions about the future of health care among themselves and with voters.

This proved to be a winning strategy in the 2018 midterms, but the party will first have to mend its divide over the future of health care, i.e. building upon ObamaCare or scrapping it in favor of "Medicare for All." That is the debate to watch out for throughout this primary cycle.

— Julia Manchester



The campaign goes on for those left off the debate stage. The Hill’s Reid Wilson interviews Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPress: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE, who is doubling down on campaigning in Iowa.

Five takeaways from Thursday night’s Democratic debate, from The Hill’s Max Greenwood and Julia Manchester.

Wondering who came out on top after last night’s debate? The Hill’s Jonathan Easley has you covered from Houston. 



Trump’s campaign is moving to block three Republicans challenging him in next year’s primary election, cognizant of the potential threat those challengers represent to Trump’s hold on his vaunted Republican base. The Trump campaign has worked for months to limit a challenger’s ability to test him, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports 

Business Insider will host a debate featuring Trump’s challengers, The Hill’s Joe Concha reports.



Julie Hollar: The Democratic debates should not be in the hands of corporate media.

Goldie Taylor: Gaffes or not, rank-and-file Democrats are ridin’ with Biden.

Krystal Ball: Why the media dislike Sanders, Yang, Gabbard and Williamson.

Karl W. Smith: Trump should be worried about these economic trends.



Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPress: Another billionaire need not apply Saagar Enjeti dismisses Warren, Klobuchar claims of sexism New book questions Harris's record on big banks MORE (D-Calif.), the former attorney general of California, has released a criminal justice reform plan (The Hill) … Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Poll: Biden support hits record low of 26 percent The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify MORE (D-N.J.) has introduced the Federal Firearm Licensing Act, which would require potential gun purchasers to go through the Justice Department to obtain a gun license. 

Trust me’: Harris makes big play on criminal justice reform. (New York Times)



Max Greenwood reports from Charlotte, N.C. -- Republican Dan Bishop edged out Democrat Dan McCready in the special election on Tuesday to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, narrowly holding on to a House seat that has been in the GOP’s hands for nearly 60 years.

Trump’s campaign advisers immediately took credit for the win. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, his campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE was blunt: “There’s no question that [Bishop is] the congressman-elect this morning because of the personal efforts of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE.”

But the special election results flashed warning signs for both parties, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports.

While Bishop outperformed former Republican candidate Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE’s margins in a handful of rural counties, McCready tightened his grip on Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte and its immediate suburbs are located. That reaffirmed one of the biggest takeaways from the 2018 midterm elections: the GOP’s once-solid support in the suburbs is still weakening.

For Democrats, however, the election raised questions about what they need to do to turn out their core voters. McCready campaigned as an unabashed moderate, touting the slogan “country over party” and distancing himself from more liberal Democrats in Washington. But whether that will motivate the party’s activist base in 2020 is unclear. 

Warren is getting involved in House primaries, backing challengers to two centrist Democratic House members - Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiDemocrats unveil impeachment procedures The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Booker endorses Lipinski challenger MORE (D-Ill.).

GEORGIA SENATE: Former congressional candidate Jon Ossof will challenge. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

CA-50: Former Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaWhy the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' MORE (R-Calif.) says he will run for Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterIndicted lawmaker Duncan Hunter fails to land endorsement from local GOP Duncan Hunter challenger raises over 0,000 in third quarter Trump says White House reviewing case of Green Beret charged with Afghan murder MORE’s (R-Calif.) seat if he is not confirmed to a top trade post in the Trump administration by Nov. 3.



Biden is holding steady in the polls ahead of the third Democratic presidential primary debate, leading the next closest contender by 15 points, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

ABC News-Washington Post: Five Democratic contenders lead Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up.

Trump is not having it.



UNIVISION: All of the top Democratic White House hopefuls are leading Trump in Texas.

NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist: Warren has the highest favorability rating in the field.

EMERSON UNIVERSITY: Biden and Warren lead in New Hampshire, as Sanders slips.

Franklin Pierce: Sanders leads in New Hampshire.



Sanders will embark on Sunday on a three-day campaign swing through South Carolina, with stops in Charleston, Galivants Ferry and Hartsville. Castro will also visit the Palmetto State this weekend.

  • There are 143 days until the Iowa caucuses, 151 days until the New Hampshire primary, 162 days until the Nevada caucuses, 169 days until the South Carolina primary and 172 days until Super Tuesday.



WIZARD OF OZ: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tried to make a point about President Trump at Thursday’s debate by invoking the classic flick, "The Wizard of Oz."

"Donald Trump, in office, on trade policy ... he reminds me of that guy in 'The Wizard of Oz,' you know, when you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude," Harris said.

Here’s the awkward part — Harris was speaking to moderator George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosSenate Republicans can acquit Trump — but they cannot defend his conduct Scalise doesn't directly say whether it's OK for Trump to ask Ukraine to investigate political opponents White House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week MORE, who himself stands at 5 feet, 5 inches tall. 

But the broadcast news veteran took it all in stride. 

“OK,” Stephanopoulos said. "I'm not even going to take the bait, Sen. Harris."

"Oh George, it wasn't about you,” Harris said. 

The internet, in turn, had a field day.   


We’ll catch you next week for more campaign news and analysis!