The third time appears to have been the charm, as the Democratic Party was finally one of the winners in the continuing marathon of prime time debates among candidates for the Democratic nomination for president. That result came none too soon. Party faithful were beginning to question the wisdom of repeatedly subjecting their presidential front-runners to intense scrutiny and pointed challenges from one another, while Republicans and President Donald Trump cheered on the carnage.  

The third debate featured a scaled down roster of candidates. The 10 qualifiers appeared on a single stage, on a single night, and each had a chance to make a pitch to voters even if no one had anything particularly new to say on any of the debate topics. And while it is too early to say who the Democratic nominee will be, the contours of the contest are coming into focus.

No candidate grabbed the standout moment that each sought, and none had any particularly surprising or disappointing moments. That said, the debate appeared to strengthen the front-runner status of former Vice President Joe Biden, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who were on the stage together for the first time. As for another “top tier” contender, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), there is real question whether his promotion of Democratic socialism is really ready for prime time.   

The debate also helped elevate four of the participants as possible vice presidential candidates, which may actually be the real goal of at least one or more of Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Fort Wayne, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But that all begs the question of whether the Democrats will be able to field a team that can articulate and embody a unified Democratic platform in 2020, and who can actually defeat Trump.  

In that regard, the candidates are going to have to find a way to talk about more than health care, education, immigration policy, the Iran deal and trade with China. The absence, for example, of any debate questions focused on the economy (an issue that regularly tops voter concerns) gives the impression that Democrats are ceding the issue to Republicans. We know that’s not the case, particularly as we face mounting national debt and the threatened collapse of the social safety net. We need to hear more from the candidates on these issues.

Finally, after five nights and more than a dozen hours of Democratic debates, it is interesting that the word Israel has not been mentioned. Jews and Israel supporters are a significant segment of the Democratic constituency. With all the twists and turns in the U.S.-Israel relationship in the last few years, much of it not supported by Democrats, this is another area where we need to hear from the candidates about what their way forward will be.  

Score 1 for the Democratic Party, but there is still work to be done. JN

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