Here are the winners and losers of the 7th Democratic primary debate in Iowa

Democratic debates

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • The seventh Democratic primary debate in Iowa this week barely made a ripple.
  • The candidates on stage largely failed to set themselves apart from the pack and spent most of the night squabbling over technicalities and rehashing their campaigns' main talking points.
  • That said, there were some breakthrough moments.
  • Overall, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts won the debate. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also made a splash, despite the fact that he wasn't even on stage.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and businessman Tom Steyer lost the debate.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont didn't win or lose and instead had a lukewarm night.
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The seventh Democratic primary debate in Iowa barely made a ripple.

The six candidates on stage - former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and businessman Tom Steyer - squabbled over technicalities and rehashed their campaigns' main talking points.

There were few breakthrough moments and barely anyone set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

That said, there were - barely - some standouts.

Here are the winners of Tuesday's Democratic debate

  • Warren
    • The progressive firebrand had a big night and cemented her place as a frontrunner by taking on her competitors including Sanders, with whom she's always had a close relationship.
    • The two reportedly made a pact before the 2020 campaign season that they would not claw at one another during the race. But that truce seemed to fall apart on stage Tuesday as they contradicted one another on whether Sanders had told her during a private conversation that a woman would not win the presidency.
    • Sanders said he never made such a comment. Warren disagreed and drew loud applause when she noted that the only people on stage who had won every election they'd ever run in - her and Klobuchar - were women.
    • Warren also used the rest of the debate to nail down her biggest policy proposals on issues like childcare, healthcare costs, prescription drug costs, foreign policy, and military spending.
    • She also drew widespread praise for focusing on LGBT issues and specifically mentioning transgender women of color.
  • Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg
    • Bloomberg wasn't on stage Tuesday night, but that didn't stop his campaign from embarking on a Twitter blitz and dominating the conversation on social media.
    • Throughout the course of the debate - and leading up to it - the Bloomberg campaign tweeted about meatballs, tattoos, setting wild animals loose on the Democratic debate stage, what Secret Service codename he should choose, singing with Lady Gaga, Tostitos, Vicks VapoRub, and more.
    • We would try to explain the context behind some of those tweets, but it would get complicated, so check them out here.

Here are the losers of Tuesday's Democratic debate

Everyone on stage who wasn't Warren had a rough night. Here's a breakdown of some of the worst moments:

  • Buttigieg, who has minimal support from black voters, drew some criticism when he said, "The black voters who know me best are supporting me."
    • The remark was seen as somewhat flippant and tone-deaf specifically because the former mayor has almost no support from the demographic, which has historically been one of the Democratic Party's most significant voting blocs.
    • Buttigieg also struggled to stand out during the rest of the debate and didn't add much to the conversation. When other candidates criticized his plans for being short-sighted or inadequate, Buttigieg repeatedly attacked what he described as a "Washington mentality" without going into specifics or describing how his proposals were better than those of his opponents.
  • Biden had a disappointing night, too.
    • The former vice president hasn't had a strong debate performance since the 2020 campaign kicked off and Tuesday night was no different.
    • He stumbled over his words, he failed to build momentum, and he continuously relied on the legacy of former President Barack Obama when asked to discuss his own achievements.
    • That said, Biden still commands a strong lead in national polling. Though he's fallen behind in Iowa in recent weeks, his support among minorities and black voters indicates that Biden could still come out the frontrunner even if he loses in Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • Steyer didn't break ground or set himself apart.
    • He spent most of the debate criticizing President Donald Trump while speaking directly into the camera. When asked what experience he could bring to the field, Steyer said he had traveled a lot.
    • And despite saying he cared more about climate change than any other candidate on stage, the businessman failed to outline any specific plans he had to combat the crisis.
  • Klobuchar didn't have a particularly bad night, but her performance was significantly worse than in the last few debates, when she dominated the stage.
    • The Minnesota senator did make a more direct case for Iowa voters than any other candidate on stage, but she struggled to gain momentum and instead spent most of the night repeating herself and taking shots at Trump.
  • Foreign policy
    • With Iran and Ukraine dominating news cycles, one may have thought foreign policy would take center stage this week.
    • Instead, the candidates spent most of their speaking time peddling through tired talking points and making vague commitments about withdrawing troops from some regions but leaving them stationed at others. As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake put it, Tuesday's foreign policy debate "was a lot of Goldilocks-ing of troop numbers - each one assuring that he or she would keep just the right amount in the Middle East."

Toss-up

  • Sanders had a lukewarm night.
    • When the debate moderators brought up recent reports about his private conversation with Warren, during which he told her a woman would not win the presidency, the Vermont senator deflected the grenade and drilled down on his support for female candidates.
    • He also reiterated his belief that a woman can win the presidency and pointed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's popular vote victory over Trump during the 2016 election.
    • That said, Sanders, like many other candidates, struggled to set himself apart from the pack on stage and spent most of the debate going over talking points the public is likely familiar with now: how the wealthy are taking advantage of the middle-class and poor people, sky-high healthcare costs, the national security threat Trump poses, and more.
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