WASHINGTON — Ten U.S. Democratic presidential contenders held a spirited debate Wednesday night in the first major event of the 2020 election campaign, all looking to oust Republican President Donald Trump after a single term in the White House.
The immediate focus was on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive lawmaker from the northeastern state of Massachusetts who national surveys show has edged closer to former Vice President Joe Biden as a Democratic favorite to oppose Trump in the election set for Nov. 3, 2020.
She told a live audience in Miami, Florida, and millions more watching on national television, “I want to return government to the people.” She added, referring to major corporations, “What’s been missing is courage, courage in Washington to take on the giants. I have the courage to go after them.”
Later, Warren said she supports a government-run health care system that could end the private insurance-based health care now used in the U.S. Some Democratic candidates and most Republicans, including Trump, oppose such a change as costly and a mistake for the country.
But Warren, a former Harvard law professor, said, “Health care is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights.”
Even with Warren’s strong performance in the two-hour debate, the other candidates had their moments in their attempt to gain a foothold in the unprecedentedly large field of 25 Democratic candidates.
Despite a robust U.S. economy, a normal election-year barometer favoring an incumbent U.S. president’s re-election, Trump is by no means a shoo-in for a second four-year term.
Polling shows the one-time New York real estate magnate has yet to win over many voters beyond the hard core of populist and Republican voters that has supported him through his 29-month presidency. More voters than not, surveys repeatedly show, disapprove of his performance in office.
U.S. political pundits dismissed Trump’s chances of a victory three years ago, but he could win again.
At the moment, however, surveys show several Democrats leading the 73-year-old Trump. Biden, who is 76 and was President Barack Obama’s two-term vice president, holds the biggest edge of more than 10 percentage points over Trump. But polls this far ahead of the election are not necessarily predictive and may be just a snapshot of a moment in time.
All of the Democratic presidential candidates, to one degree or another, have staked out positions on key issues they think are important to reshape policy debates in Washington, while at the same time attacking Trump for his views about domestic issues and international relations during his unprecedented presidency.
The Democrats running for the U.S. presidency have broadly adopted a much more expansive liberal role for the federal government than either the more conservative Trump or Republicans who control the Senate. Democrats, in philosophical political agreement with many of their presidential candidates, took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 congressional elections.
The Democratic presidential candidates do have policy differences among themselves and often have emphasized a variety of issues they think might help them connect with voters when there is such a large field of candidates.
Warren and Sanders, neck-and-neck in second place behind Biden in nomination surveys, are both pushing for far-reaching changes to the country’s economic policies to help middle-class families, paid for with higher taxes on wealthy people. Warren wants new taxes on people with more than $50 million in assets, while Sanders called this week for wiping out all $1.6 trillion in student college debt.
Biden, to a large degree, has stayed above the fray of debate over policy issues, preferring to present himself as the voice of American stability, a correction to Trump’s unpredictable, tweet-filled presidency.
Mocking Trump’s long-standing political slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Biden recently told voters, “Let’s make America, America again.”
But appearing on the same stage with other Democrats on Thursday may force him to explain and account for his four decades as a Washington political figure and twice-failed presidential campaigns.
The other candidates debating Wednesday included Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.
Thursday’s list of candidates also includes New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson.