Election 2020: The June 27th Democratic Primary Debate

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There are 502 days until the 2020 presidential election! It is also less than seven months until the Iowa caucuses (February 3, 2020), the official start of the 2020 primaries. That means the time has come for the first of many, many debates between the prospective Democratic nominees.

Beginning this week, the DNC will be hosting a series of 12 debates — including six by the end of this year. However, due to the large pool of nominees, this month’s debates will be split up between two nights, with ten candidates per night.

The following candidate list is for the June 27th debate. All poll numbers are from RealClearPolitics as of Monday, June 24, 2019.

Michael Bennet (0.4%)

Serving his state for ten years, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado is running as a moderate Democrat. He has previously served as the chief of staff of fellow 2020 candidate and former Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.

Senator Bennet was a sponsor of the First Step Act, a bill that limits juvenile solitary confinement and reduces mandatory minimum sentencing, in some cases, for repeat non-violent drug offenses. He is not a supporter of Medicare for All, instead backing an Obamacare public option he dubs “Medicare X” with Senator Tim Kaine. Bennet is a supporter of a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and is a sponsor of the American Family Act, which would provide tax cuts for middle class families. The Yale Law graduate is also a sponsor of a bill to “End Federal Prohibition of Marijuana.” While he is not a sponsor of the Green New Deal, Senator Bennet is a staunch climate change advocate, stressing the need to invest in clean energy.

Aside from a general lack of name recognition, Senator Bennet may be open to criticism for his involvement in bank deregulation. He joined roughly a dozen Senate Democrats in backing the reversal of some measures of the Dodd-Frank Act, last year.

Joe Biden (32.1%)

If you don’t know who Joe Biden is in 2019, I don’t know what to tell you. The former Delaware Senator (1973–2009) served as Vice President to President Barack Obama, overseeing the country and the Senate for two terms. Known for his down to earth demeanor, his tough persona, and being handsy, Biden is entering tonight’s debate as the top candidate, with a double-digit margin over second place.

As Vice President, Biden was a champion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). As such, his plans for health care are centered more around expansion than Medicare for All. He intends to create a public option rather than dismantle it. The former senator has also recently unveiled an extensive plan for climate change, targeting “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Vice President Biden previously supported a $12 minimum wage in 2015, with a gradual increase to $15 by 2020. He supports the decriminalization of marijuana rather than full legalization, having long believed it to be a gateway drug. Biden has recently expressed support for free tuition at community colleges and previously echoed those sentiments regarding state universities.

Due to his lengthy political career, Vice President Biden has a lot of avenues for criticism. Let’s start with the obvious: the dude can’t keep his hands to himself. Since April 2019, at least seven women have come forward with allegations of inappropriate touching or sexual misconduct against the former vice president, something that may not play well with the Democratic base post #MeToo. This is compounded by criticism of his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing in 1991. The former senator has also come under fire for his support of the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal abortion funding; he recently reversed his position on the matter.

Biden has also received criticism for his past relationship with African Americans, particularly his support for segregationist anti-busing legislation in the 70s and “tough on crime” bills in the 90s. The former indicates he was against public integration, and the latter contributed to the current issue of mass incarceration. The former vice president has also previously indicated support for a fence at the southern border and punishing employers who hire illegal migrants. Both positions are opposed by many of his fellow Democrats and left-leaning voters.

Pete Buttigieg (7.0%)

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, was a bit of a surprise candidate. Born and raised in the city where he now serves as mayor, Buttigieg is an alumnus of both Harvard and Oxford and began serving in the US Navy Reserve in 2009. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, taking a leave of absence to serve for seven months. The South Bend mayor enters tonight’s debate as a top 5 candidate — tied with Kamala Harris and overtaking both Beto O’Rourke and fellow Rhodes Scholar Cory Booker in polling.

“Mayor Pete” supports a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, the abolition of the electoral college, and single-payer health care. For the latter, he envisions an all-payer rate-setting transition. The South Bend mayor is pro-choice, considering abortion a “moral question” best answered by “the person who actually faces the choice”. As a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Buttigieg supports universal background checks and banning guns in schools. He is also a supporter of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Green New Deal. Deeming climate change to be a national security threat, the Afghanistan veteran is in favor of government-subsidized solar panels. As the only openly gay candidate, Buttigieg is also a supporter of the Equality Act, a bill that would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. While he has not stated a belief in free college, he does support expanding Public Service Loan Forgiveness to help people out.

At present, Mayor Buttigieg’s main points of criticism focus on his acceptance of money from lobbyists and his handling of policing in South Bend. In April, he announced that he would be refunding his Washington donors and no longer accepting them. Regarding policing, there are two issues. The first is Buttigieg’s demoting South Bend’s first black police chief and firing their communications director over an illegal wiretapping scandal. The chief claimed the recordings were of fellow officers being racist, but Buttigieg refused to release them to the public. Those officers then sued the city. All of this informs the most recent story of an officer-involved shooting in South Bend — one in which the mayor is facing attacks from both citizens and officers over his handling thus far.

Kirsten Gillibrand (0.4%)

A congressional advocate for sexual assault victims, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has served ten years as a United States Senator. She previously represented New York’s 20th district and worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign.

Senator Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of Medicare for All and a supporter of the Green New Deal. In May, she proposed a “Democracy Dollars” plan for campaign financing which would grant voters $200 vouchers for each federal election. The senator also wishes to reverse Citizens United and has pledged to avoid corporate PAC donations. The former representative has reversed her positions on gun control; before joining the Senate, she held an A rating from the NRA and championed gun rights. As previously mentioned, Senator Gillibrand is a leading voice in Congress regarding #MeToo and the handling of sexual assault victims. The upstate NY native has previously called out Senator Al Franken, former President Bill Clinton, and President Donald Trump to resign over misconduct or allegations against them. To complement this, Gillibrand also sponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act to address assault in the military and pushed for reforms in handling cases at the collegiate level. She has pledged to only nominate judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade if elected. And, similar to Julián Castro, the senator has a plan to split ICE in half. Under this proposal, Homeland Security would keep ICE’s duties of counterterrorism and anti-trafficking while the Justice Department would be responsible for “enforcement and removal”.

A firebrand personality, Senator Gillibrand is definitely open to criticism. As mentioned above, she was more conservative during her tenure as a representative, having an A rating from the NRA and taking a hardline stance on immigration policy. This combined with her attacks on Senator Franken may put her at odds with her Democratic colleagues. She also had a staffer resign due to Gillibrand’s apparent mishandling of her sexual harassment claims against one of the senator’s aides, drawing a divide between her public advocacy and private actions.

Kamala Harris (7.0%)

Elected in 2016, Senator Kamala Harris of California boasts a combination of characteristics that, on paper, would garner support from the current Democratic base. A Howard alumna, prosecutor, and former attorney general of her state, Senator Harris’ unique record before her tenure as junior senator boosted her profile enough to be a top 5 favorite for the nomination.

Alongside many of her colleagues, Senator Harris is a co-sponsor of both the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. She is also a co-sponsor of Senator Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, having previously lent her support for legal marijuana at the federal level and admitting to her past marijuana use. Harris sponsored both the LIFT the Middle Class Act and the Rent Relief Act. The former would provide a $3,000 refundable tax credit to individuals making $50,000 or less per year and $6,000 for married couples earning under $100,000. The latter proposes federal rent assistance through a tax credit. She has indicated that she would repeal the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and replace it with LIFT. The former attorney general has called for a national moratorium on the death penalty, proposed a plan to increase teacher salaries, and vows to take strong action on gun control.

Given her career as a prosecutor and attorney general, Senator Harris has been open to criticism of her record. Previously, she defended the death penalty, despite stating her personal objection. She stayed silent on previous criminal justice reform efforts and California Proposition 47, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors. She also opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate police shootings. Senator Harris may be polarizing to black voters as these issues have historically impacted the black community.

John Hickenlooper (0.3%)

Former Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado served two successful terms and just recently left office in January. He has previously served as mayor of Denver, with fellow candidate Michael Bennet as his chief of staff.

While Governor Hickenlooper supports climate change legislation and universal health care, he has denounced the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, stating that he “[rejects] the notion that it should become a litmus test of what it takes to be a good Democrat.” Regarding climate change, the governor supports the Paris Climate Agreement, a carbon tax, and infrastructure investment. For health care, Hickenlooper previously created an Obamacare exchange in Colorado and proposed a Medicaid expansion. He’s developed a reputation as a pro-business Democrat, previously working to deregulate his state and bring business to the Denver. The former governor also created a high school apprenticeship program and launched a website to retrain displaced workers. He supports legalizing marijuana, universal background checks, and banning high-capacity magazines.

As a moderate Democrat, Governor Hickenlooper may face criticism for his business-friendly past, especially regarding his relationship to the fracking industry. He has also been accused of accepting free jet rides, which was a violation of Colorado ethics rules (and likely federal ones, too).

Bernie Sanders (16.5%)

Serving his state for 12 years in the Senate, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has led the charge in pushing the Democratic Party toward a more progressive platform. The 2016 Democratic runner up radically affected the DNC and began this election cycle as the presumptive front-runner before the formal announcement of Vice President Biden. He’s entering tonight’s debate in second place amongst the candidates.

Senator Sanders is the primary sponsor of Medicare for All, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act. As the spearhead of the movement, the former Burlington mayor co-sponsored a bill for a $15 federal minimum wage and sponsored the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act. He has consistently campaigned on raising taxes on Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans, using the tax revenue for policies such as tuition-free public colleges & universities and the elimination of $1.6 trillion of student debts. Sanders proposes to increase estate taxes, including up to 77% on estates over $1 billion. He has also outlined a policy agenda for “Revitalizing Rural America.”

Senator Sanders’ main criticism refers to his age and “socialist” branding. He has also been accused of being impractical, forwarding big policy ideas that would never see the light of day. Like Senator Gillibrand, Sanders has also mishandled sexual misconduct claims involving campaign staffers.

Eric Swalwell (0%)

Eric Swalwell has served as the US Representative for California’s 15th district since 2013. He is Chairman of the Intelligence Modernization and Readiness subcommittee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He previously served in the Dublin City Council.

Congressman Swalwell has proposed raising the cap on the Social Security payroll tax with the intent of having wealthier Americans pay more. The House Intelligence Committee member is a sponsor of the Journalist Protection Act, a proposal that would make certain attacks on the media a federal crime. He is a supporter of Medicare for All, but is not in favor of eliminating private insurance. Swallwell has proposed a “college bargain” program, no-interest federal student loans, and debt-free college. The congressman has also repeatedly pushed for student loan forgiveness and supports the Green New Deal. He has strong views on gun control, having supported universal background checks, and he penned an op-ed calling for an assault weapons ban and federal buy-back program. The California representative also sponsored the “No Guns For Abusers” Act to keep firearms out of the hands of people with a history of domestic violence.

Despite the plethora of policy positions, Congressman Swalwell has been accused of running a one-issue campaign on gun control; it has become his signature issues. He is also a relatively unknown figure in a very crowded primary field, and his polling numbers reflect that. However, that is subject to change over time.

Marianne Williamson (0%)

Marianne Williamson is an author of 13 books, four of which have been number one on the New York Times bestseller list. She is also an activist and “New Age spiritual guru.” In 2014, Williamson ran for Congress as an independent for California’s 33rd district, placing fourth out of 16.

Per her campaign website, Ms. Williamson supports a “universal medicare-for-all system”. Regarding education, the best-selling author also supports universal preschool, free college or technical school tuition, and student loan amnesty. She is in favor of the Green New Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Williamson’s four-step economic plan is to provide cash relief through universal basic income (UBI); create jobs through the Green New Deal; invest in early education, affordable childcare, and paid family leave, sick leave, and caregiving; and institute a universal savings program. She is a supporter of universal background checks, banning assault weapons & high-capacity magazines, and the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act, which would revoke gun ownership from people believed to pose a danger to themselves. Ms. Williamson also supports DACA, a pathway to citizenship, and reparations. Regarding the latter, she has called for $100 billion to be paid to African Americans, split into $10 billion per year for ten years.

Despite her activism, Ms. Williamson is open to criticism over her inexperience in the realm of public office and being an unknown entity in a crowded field of candidates, though that can change by the official primaries. She has also been previously criticized for being difficult to work with, once calling herself “the bitch for God.” She has since acknowledged her need to improve on the latter.

Andrew Yang (1.3%)

An entrepreneur who has worked in the start-up scene for over a decade, Andrew Yang is a man who rivals only Elizabeth Warren in the realm of preparation. The Columbia Law alumnus is the founder and president of Venture for America and was named a Champion of Change by President Obama.

In March, The RYM’s Tim Lewis reported that Yang “has 76 positions outlined on his website, addressing everything from marijuana legislation to abortion and contraception to algorithmic trading and fraud.” Yang’s platform is guided by a philosophy he calls “human-centered capitalism”, which values people over profits and prioritizes issues such as automation and health care — all tackled in a data-driven manner. The Brown University alumnus tackles the former with his proposed “Freedom Dividend”, a UBI system which would provide every American aged 18 and up with $1000 per month. He estimates it would grow the economy 13% and increase the labor force by 4.5–5 million. On the issue of health care, Yang supports a single-payer system and endorses Medicare for All. He has pledged to legalize marijuana, pardon all non-violent marijuana-related offenses, and decriminalize opioids.

Yang’s main weak points are his inexperience in government and his relative lack of name recognition. That being said, he is currently a top 10 candidate, meaning he is doing something right to get his name out there.


How do you feel about the candidates? Be sure to watch tonight’s debate to see how they do! Tune in NBC, MSNBC, or Telemundo from 9 to 11 PM!


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