Political pundits and strategists on both sides of the aisle agree that the big winner from the first two nights of Democratic debates is California Sen. Kamala Harris. She delivered the one truly memorable performance of the four hours from Miami.
And unfortunately for the former Vice President, she had some of her best moments attacking Joe Biden, landing real blows that many people believe did lasting damage.
“Bottom line: Harris is a front runner now. Biden won’t be soon,” a New Hampshire Democratic insider told NHJournal after the debate.
“@KamalaHarris won this debate and helped her standing in the race. If she is consistently like this then she will be formidable,” veteran Massachusetts-based Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh tweeted after the debate. “She hurt @JoeBiden and he didn’t really help himself @BernieSanders and @PeteButtigieg seem diminished.”
“Everyone else should prepare their exit plans,” said NH state Rep. Rosemary Rung (D-Merrimack). “Between last night and tonight, Joe Biden is NOT the frontrunner. He’s turned ‘moderate’ to ‘obsolete.'”
DC Democratic strategist Joel Payne told NHJournal he’s hearing the same conversations being reported by New York magazine and Fox News, among others, that there’s a sense of panic around Biden’s campaign. “But Kamala Harris is the real story,” Payne says.
And a DC GOP insider says the same buzz is being heard in Republican circles: “Harris is ready to take the gloves off use the oppo her campaign has collected,” the source told NHJournal.
Veteran New Hampshire Democrat and Bill Clinton co-chair Terry Shumaker agrees that Harris seized an opportunity but says the “Biden panic” talk is overblown.
“It was one debate,” Shumaker told NHJournal. “He [Biden] did fine. He spent most of his time either responding to the other nine or going after Trump. And that hasn’t changed: Everyone I talked to in New Hampshire wants to know who can beat Donald Trump, who has the experience and toughness to go after Trump in the campaign.”
As for the attacks on Biden, Shumaker said it’s to be expected. “If you have two weeks to plan to go after the front runner and you don’t succeed, you shouldn’t be in the race.”
But many progressives believe Biden suffered a blow to his campaign and they’re exploiting it. The pro-Liz Warren group Progressive Change Campaign Committee told NHJournal in a statement “Kamala Harris showed Joe Biden is behind the times and not the Democratic Party’s most electable candidate by a long shot.”
And Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement: “Joe Biden lacks the ideas and leadership needed to govern America through a series of historic crises.”
“We don’t need someone who voted for the Iraq War, for mass incarceration, and for the Bankruptcy Reform Act while voting against gay marriage, reproductive rights, and busing to achieve school desegregation. We can do so much better.”
But New Hampshire state Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) heard a lot to like on Thursday night. “I think Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Harris were strong, well-prepared and presidential. They did excellent jobs. Mayor Buttigieg also was articulate and I always like to hear him discuss topics of importance. Those were my top three tonight,” she told NHJournal.