Finley: Who soared, who flopped in first Detroit debate

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It was billed as the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders show, and that's how the first Democratic debate in Detroit played out Tuesday night.

Most of the questions went to the two far left senators, and even when they didn't, the pair butted in to answer them anyway.

They worked in tandem most of the night to defend socialist initiatives such as Medicare for all, free college and other giveaways. They avoided attacking each other and focused their jabs on the moderates on the stage who questioned the wisdom of their big spending agenda. 

Ten candidates take the stage for the Democratic presidential debates at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.  From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

That tag-team act can't last. To beat front-runner Joe Biden, one of them will have to be taken out of the race, meaning they'll have to start banging on each other soon. 

For the group of low-name ID moderates, Tuesday night was make-or-break. To get a ticket to subsequent debates, they'll have to register at least two percent support in four separate polls. They're currently well below that threshold.  

So the likes of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan needed break-out performances.

Bullock and Delaney delivered, speaking forcefully for moderation in the party. And because they were willing to add the spark CNN was looking for in challenging Warren and Sanders, they got plenty of air time. Bullock was never rattled by the counter punches from the two progressives. Delaney was memorable for calling out the progressive's "fairy tale" promise.

Both improved their chances of making the next cut. 

Hickenlooper and Ryan, while carrying the same message, did so with far less gusto. The Coloradan had trouble articulating his thoughts, and Ryan flubbed early by not joining the rest of the group in placing his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. He may as well have took a knee. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg continues to draw raves from traditional liberals, and presented himself as mature and reasonable. But he had moments of off-putting condescension, as when he questioned the Christianity of those who oppose a $15 minimum wage.

The big flops were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a candidate of considerable depth, but one who is flat-out boring, and Beto O'Rourke, who, in tempering his bouncy stage persona, seemed barely awake. Expect his slide in the polls to accelerate.

Author Marianne Williamson speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN.

The most Googled debater was author and self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who got the fewest questions but delivered the clearest answers on tough topics such as reparations for slavery. She's developing a cult following that could keep her on the stage for awhile. 

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.