The Beto Bust

Column: And a Booker bounce?

Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O'Rourke / Getty Images
June 26, 2019

I'm not sure the first night of the Democratic debate had a winner, but it sure had a loser: Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke. The former congressman found himself the target of Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and John Delaney. And O'Rourke didn't fare well. He came across as stilted and rehearsed during his answers and off-balance in his responses to the other candidates. O'Rourke enjoyed a lot of publicity last year, and much attention when he launched his campaign, but he has since lost ground to South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg. O'Rourke is at 3 percent nationally in the RCP average. Don't expect that number to rise anytime soon.

Below are some thoughts on the nine other candidates on stage Wednesday night.

Elizabeth Warren. She's the highest-ranked of this first round of candidates, but did not have a great night. She delivered stump-speech-worthy responses in the first half, but seemed to disappear once the questions turned to immigration and other issues. Warren played it safe, which will probably help her continue to cut into Bernie Sanders's support.

Cory Booker. Booker seemed to be doing very well in Google searches and social interactions. He's a passionate speaker and comfortable on the party's left flank. But he's stuck at 2 percent in the polls. Will his good performance give him a bump? Stranger things have happened.

Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar is good with a quip and comes across as a sensible progressive Democrat. Not sure she did anything to improve her poll position, though.

Julián Castro. I was impressed by Castro, though I disagree with him on just about everything. He was very strong on immigration from a left-wing perspective and made the most of his time on stage. I rank his performance second, after Booker's. His problem is he's at 0.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Tim Ryan. Tim Ryan would have done well in the Democratic Party of, say, 1987. Not the party of 2019.

Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard has a low net favorability, according to Did she do anything to improve those numbers? Her dovish foreign policy got a strong response from the audience.

Bill de Blasio. De Blasio's favorability, meanwhile, is underwater. I'd expect it to stay that way.

Jay Inslee. Mr. Climate Change seemed absent during large stretches of the evening. A non-factor.

John Delaney. Delaney's answers had me nodding in agreement. Which means he has absolutely no chance of becoming the Democratic nominee.

On Thursday, 10 more candidates will take the stage. Including the Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, who should be pretty happy with what happened tonight.