Wednesday night brought the first debate of the 2020 presidential cycle, with 10 Democrats gathering in Miami. (On Thursday night, 10 more Democrats — including the polling frontrunners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — will hit the same stage.)
There weren’t many fireworks as the candidates were forced to split up the limited time, but there were some glaring technical issues and candidates taking jabs at President Trump without making him the focus of the gathering.
Here are five key takeaways from night 1:
1. The field is divided on health care
The first — and perhaps most — contentious issue of the night was health care, as the assembled Democrats compared the merits of a more comprehensive single-payer plan like Medicare For All, which would completely eliminate private insurance versus a more incremental step of a government-funded public option. The standout moment came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who gave an impassioned defense of the more expansive position, her first time really doing so.
“There are a lot of politicians who say it’s just not possible, we just can’t do it, have a lot of political reasons for this,” said Warren of the fight for single payer. “What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right and I will fight for basic human rights.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota made the case for a public option, pointing out that it was the position of then-President Obama in the early stages of passing the Affordable Care Act. Klobuchar said she was “simply concerned about kicking half of America off their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says.”
2. Castro had a strong night
One of the lower-tier candidates who managed to distinguish himself was former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. His main push came on immigration, where he was the first Democrat to lay out an expansive plan for an issue that a recent Gallup poll found to be the most important problem overall cited by Americans. Castro, who aims to be the first Hispanic president, said the photo of Oscar and Valeria Martinez, two migrants who died crossing into the United States, “should piss us all off.” He also tussled with fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke over decriminalizing border crossings, continuing to take shots at him in the spin room following the debate.
Castro also came on strong for abortion rights, promoting “reproductive justice” and receiving cheers in the room. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather inquired via Twitter if anyone thought Castro had a good night, receiving hundreds of positive replies — including from Castro — with many suggesting him as a running mate for Warren.
3. Tres candidates showed off their Spanish skills
Beto O’Rourke answered his first question at Wednesday’s debate in both English and Spanish.
The former Texas congressman was asked whether he would support taxing higher-earners, as has been proposed by some of his Democratic rivals. “This economy has got to work for everyone and right now we know that it isn’t,” O’Rourke said. “And it’s going to take all of us coming together to make sure that it does.”
Without pausing, the El Paso native switched briefly to Spanish. (Later, he even fielded a question in Spanish from Telemundo's José Diaz-Balart.)
But O'Rourke wasn't the only candidate to flex his bilingual abilities on Wednesday. Castro and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey did so too.
4. NBC had a hot-mic fail
Heading into Wednesday's debate, NBC executives insisted the event wasn't about the network or their talent.
"The show is not about the moderators," NBC News executive Rashida Jones told the Associated Press earlier this week.
But about halfway through it became, for a few awkward moments, exactly that.
A hot-mic issue forced Chuck Todd to abandon a question about gun violence to Elizabeth Warren when Savannah Guthrie, who had just handed off co-moderating duties to Todd and Rachel Maddow, could be heard on the live broadcast from backstage.
“We are hearing our colleague’s audio,” Todd explained. “If the control room could turn off the mics.”
“You know, we prepared for everything,” Maddow said, laughing. “We didn’t prepare for this.” Todd quickly went to a commercial break.
The glitch did not go unnoticed for one viewer aboard Air Force One.
“@NBCNews and @MSNBC should be ashamed of themselves for having such a horrible technical breakdown in the middle of the debate,” President Trump tweeted while en route to the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. “Truly unprofessional and only worthy of a FAKE NEWS Organization, which they are!”
5. It was a historic night for women
Wednesday night was a historic one in that it was the first time more than one woman stood on a presidential primary debate stage as Warren, Klobuchar and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii joined seven men in the forum. It was a block noted by Klobuchar when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee mentioned his record on reproductive rights.
“I just want to say there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she said to loud cheers in the room.
On Thursday night, that new record will be tied when Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and spiritualist author Marianne Williamson take the stage.
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