Here are the winners and losers of night 2 of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates in Detroit

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
  • Night two of the second Democratic primary debate began with a bang.
  • The stage featured 10 candidates, including the frontrunners Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who had numerous feisty back-and-forths throughout the night.
  • Overall it was a rough debate for Biden and Harris, however, as well as for candidates like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington.
  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey had a strong night, as did Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and the entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
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Night two of the second round of Democratic primary debates began with a bang Wednesday night, as 10 more candidates jousted with one another to pull ahead of the pack.

As the second of two CNN debates in Detroit started, all eyes were on former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who memorably sparred during the first round of debates over Biden’s record on race relations and his positive recollections of working years ago with two segregationist US senators.

But it wasn’t Biden or Harris who stole the show.

Instead, several candidates whose campaigns have been floundering in recent weeks used Wednesday to bring themselves back into the national spotlight.

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  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

Booker landed several zingers against Biden while also using his time to target President Donald Trump.

At one point, he slammed Biden for having his name “on every crime bill, major and minor,” since the 1970s.

“If you want to compare records – and frankly, I’m shocked that you do – I am happy to do that,” Booker later said, as the audience broke into applause.

When Biden pushed back and criticised actions Booker took as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker again shot back: “There’s a saying in my community that you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid, and you don’t even know the flavour.”

Later in the debate, Booker also ripped into Biden for repeatedly invoking President Barack Obama’s name on the campaign trail.

“First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways,” Booker said. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”

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  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii

Wednesday was a breakout night for Gabbard, who has consistently polled near the bottom of the crowded Democratic leaderboard. She effectively used the night to boost her profile.

Similar to the first debates last month, Gabbard touted her time serving in Iraq as a member of the US military. But she also took a more combative stance against her opponents, namely Harris.

“Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor, and that she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record,” Gabbard said during a debate on criminal-justice reform.

“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard added. “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labour for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.”

Harris shot back that she was proud of the eight years she served as attorney general of California, but she didn’t address any of Gabbard’s criticisms against her.

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  • New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Yang was skewered for his dismal performance during the first primary debate last month, and his performance on Wednesday was markedly better.

He ripped into Trump as a “reality-TV show” president, and he accused Republicans of scapegoating immigrants “for issues they have nothing to do with in our economy.”

But whether Yang’s performance Wednesday will translate to an increase in the polls remains to be seen.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

We know Warren wasn’t in the lineup for the second night of the debate. But so many other candidates used her line criticising the moderators and fellow contenders for pushing “Republican talking points” that we thought she deserved an honorable mention.


  • Former Vice President Joe Biden

Biden took hits from all sides Wednesday night, and though the former vice president did a better job of defending himself and countering against his opponents, he failed to turn the conversation away from his perceived weaknesses on issues like healthcare, immigration, and criminal-justice reform.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris of California

Harris entered Wednesday with sky-high expectations following her performance in the primary debates last month. But her frontrunner status meant Harris also had a target on her back, which candidates like Gabbard, Biden, and others capitalised on.

Harris was particularly weak when she defended her record as California’s attorney general.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York

Gillibrand did somewhat better Wednesday than she did during the first debate, but it’s unlikely her lacklustre performance will boost her standing.

Still, Gillibrand landed at least one zinger against Biden when she called him out for publishing an op-ed article saying that women working outside the home were shirking their responsibilities and that it could lead to a deterioration of the family.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York

De Blasio was far more animated Wednesday than he was during the first debate last month. And while he sparred with candidates like Biden on numerous issues, de Blasio didn’t use any time to highlight of his own proposals or campaign platform.

Not a factor

  • Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado

Bennet was a nonevent at the first debate. He was also a nonevent at the second.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington

Inslee’s performance during the first debate was much sharper than his performance at the second. He touted climate change as his main issue during both debates, but he seemed significantly less focused Wednesday.

  • Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro

The expectations were high for Castro, who was widely viewed as a winner in first debate in June. While he did land some snappy one-liners on Wednesday, he largely failed to build on the momentum from last month.