Former vice president and current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden came prepared to respond to attacks from his more junior challengers during Wednesday evening’s debate in Detroit.
After struggling to maintain his footing during the first debate among Democrats a month ago in Miami, Biden was more steady this time around. He gave solid opening remarks and then proceeded to defend his record against accusations flung from most of the other nine candidates over more than two hours.
Going into the debate, he had promised to be less “polite” and he managed to live up to that expectation, fighting back against both Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as they attacked his record on the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and on criminal justice reform, respectively.
Biden also stood his ground as former Housing Secretary Julian Castro challenged him on immigration reform, debating the merits of de-criminalizing undocumented migrants crossing the border.
Compared to Castro, and leading candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Biden maintains a position similar to former President Barack Obama in that he does not agree with decriminalizing illegal border crossings. He also seems closer to President Trump in recognizing the need to process asylum cases quickly, in order to alleviate crowded conditions at the southern border.
Biden has both the advantage and disadvantage of his association with former President Barack Obama, whose economic and social policies would be too centrist for many of today’s Democrats. Biden is recognized as a moderate, which gives him some appeal with independent voters, but makes him less endearing to the left wing of the party.
Most campaign watchers felt that Biden helped himself during the debate. He maintains a sizable lead in current polls, in the range of 20 points. While Democrats are still early in their nomination process and far from unified on a number of critical policy positions, after Wednesday’s debate, Biden still appears to be the candidate to beat.