Recap of the Third Democratic Debate


On Thursday we saw the third round of Democratic debates in a new fashion: one night instead of two. While our attention spans are grateful for it, having the debate on one night leaves several implications for the primary, the most notable being the apparent winnowing of the field.  Yes, there are still 20 candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination, but those who took the stage on Thursday night were able to stand in an entirely different tier than those who did not. In this recap, we’re going to review what happened, why it matters, and what to look forward to over the next month.


If you watched the debate, you may have asked yourself “Wait, didn’t they ask that question already?” Truth be told, the moderators have. The first half of discussion was dominated by healthcare, which was also at the forefront of the two preceding debates. As you can imagine, no new substance was added in this segment. The 10 candidates on the stage have already made their positions on healthcare rather clear to potential supporters.

The stories told on the stage were the same stories told for the past three months. The discussions on policy felt like re-runs of previous episodes; conventional wisdom tells us this would not do much to change the state of the field.

In the same vein, many of the same stories were told once more and the presidential hopefuls doubled down on “their thing” that makes them unique. Be it fighting the billionaires for years, almost winning a Senate race in Texas, being Asian or being from the Midwest, each candidate strained to have their voice cut through the noise and resonate with the viewer. Like the healthcare debate, nothing new was added. For those following the primary contest, the stories told on the stage were the same stories told for the past three months. The discussions on policy felt like re-runs of previous episodes; conventional wisdom tells us this would not do much to change the state of the field. However, in this primary and in this current state of politics, many political pundits believe that conventional wisdom is just as useful as it sounds.


Boil the debate down to its key moments and you’ll find former HUD Secretary Julián Castro pouncing on former Vice President Joe Biden on his mental acuity. In a terse exchange on healthcare, Castro accused Biden on forgetting something that he said earlier. “Are you forgetting something you said two minutes ago?” Questions about Biden’s fitness for office have circled around the campaign—just as they have for the Sanders and Trump campaigns—but the attack from Castro was the first time that this question was out and on center stage. From a strategic standpoint, Castro needed a breakout moment to rise out of the 1-2% rut he’s been in for the past couple months, something he’s been able to do before. If you watched the first Democratic debate, you may remember Castro’s breakout moment when he criticized former Rep. Beto O’Rourke for not calling for decriminalizing illegal border crossings. The move landed Castro on the map, picking up some press coverage and exposure for the campaign, eventually leading him to this September debate with the heavy hitters.  

This time around he set his sights on Biden, but it may not have had the effect he was looking for. Immediately after the accusation, Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) called out the hostility, saying that there was no place for it and invoking the famous words from Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Mayor Pete Buttigieg also rebuked Castro, saying his attack is precisely the reason the American people cannot stand Washington and politicians trying to score points at the expense of others. Following the debate, political and media figures weighed in, with some calling Castro’s accusation disrespectful and out of line and others calling it a necessary conversation that needs to be had. Yet, despite what you may think about it, the move did one thing for sure: it got people talking, and people talking is what Castro needs to make it to the next round. Only time will tell whether or not this move helped Castro, and the Mock Con 2020 team will be keeping a close eye on the polls to see.


Billionaire Tom Steyer made waves last month when he declared his candidacy for president. After spending money on his “Need to Impeach” campaign, Steyer hopped into the Democratic primary fray. While he did not meet the qualifications for the September debates (he was one qualifying poll shy of making the stage) he has made the requirements to be on the October debate stage. Steyer’s billionaire status may turn some Democrats away, but it’s the one thing that can keep him going all the way to the convention. Some political pundits often refer to presidential primaries as a marathon at a sprinter’s pace, and Steyer has the resources needed to sustain that pace. Provided he will pour his own money into his presidential campaign as he did with his impeachment campaign, Steyer has the means to keep his campaign fully staffed and active all the way into the convention. While we are not sure how he will appeal to the wider Democratic audience, given his substantial war chest, our team plans to keep a close eye on Steyer as we get closer to the October debates and encourage you to do the same.

In the next week, be on the lookout for the latest polls coming out—there is still a chance that a 12th candidate will meet the qualifications to take the stage in October. Both Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2) and Marianne Williamson have met the fundraising threshold but need two and three more polls where they hit 2% or more to qualify, respectively. They must meet this mark by October 1stto make it to the debate. The next debate will be co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN on October 15th (and if needed) October 16thin Columbus, Ohio. This is also the deadline for 3rd quarter FEC filings, so for all you political junkies out there, we’re going to have a field day all in one night.

If you have not already, make sure to read our reviews of the first Democratic debates as well as the second Democratic debates. The fourth set of Democratic debates will be held on Oct. 15th and 16th in Westerville, Ohio. Be on the lookout for a recap following that debate, but until then, enjoy the start of Convention Year.

*However, we shall see in the coming weeks whether or not this debate has done anything to change the state of the race. Be on the lookout for those first polls coming out in the next week, but we believe the race is still as it was: 3 candidates competing for that top spot, and the rest trying their best to remain relevant in a turbulent primary cycle.

John Harashinski