Joe Biden and his 2020 Democratic rivals took the stage Wednesday ready for a dog fight but began their debate largely with cooler heads.
While the to looked uniting under a common goal of ousting President Donald Trump, but tensions were quickly evident between Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, the most prominent African American in the field and who savaged him over race and criminal justice issues at their previous debate.
Their jousting was not over race in the second leg of the Democratic debate, however, but health care, with Biden quickly going after Harris and her “double talk” about her own modified Medicare for All plan.
“Vice president Biden, you’re simply inaccurate,” Harris shot back.
It was a crisp opening salvo to a debate where fireworks are expected, one night after the debate between 10 other candidates exposed deep fault lines in the party between the progressive wing and centrists.
Several candidates joined with Biden in condemning the man currently in the White House.
Senator Cory Booker called Trump a ‘demagogue,’ congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said the president “is not behaving like a patriot,” and Michael Bennet called Trump’s administration a “three-ring circus.”
“Mr President, let’s get something straight,” Biden said. “We love (this country), we are not leaving it, we are here to stay, and we’re certainly not going to leave it to you.”
Biden is polling far ahead of his rivals for the nod to take on Trump in 2020, and his priority is to maintain his pole position and appear presidential while fending off the attacks that were bound to come his way.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump reacted to the debate saying, “very low ratings for the Democratic Debate last night — they’re desperate for Trump!”
Very low ratings for the Democratic Debate last night — they’re desperate for Trump!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2019
He was under pressure to come out re-energized and surefooted, poised to counterpunch against Harris, who got under Biden’s skin in their first clash.
But even as his advisors urged him to be more aggressive at Wednesday’s debate after his lackluster performance last month, Biden, 76, took a curious first step.
Moments before the debate began, as Harris walked on stage, Biden greeted the 54-year-old former California attorney general by shaking her hand, grinning and saying, “Go easy on me kid.”
(With agencies input)