Melanie Campbell flew to her native Florida to personally feel, hear and see the 20 Democratic presidential candidates debate on health care, race, foreign affairs and other topics Wednesday and Thursday.
The president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation in northwest D.C. said while she appreciated the diverse field of candidates onstage, she lamented that several key issues weren’t broached in the second round of debates Thursday, such as two important Supreme Court rulings earlier that day on gerrymandering and the 2020 Census citizenship question.
Additionally, Campbell said, there should have been more focus on voting rights, especially with past controversies in Florida.
“Why the moderator didn’t get into it? That was a concern with the people sitting around me,” she said during a phone interview after midnight Thursday. “That will have long-term implications.”
The candidates who debated Wednesday included New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; former Obama administration official Julián Castro; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan; and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Thursday featured Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; motivational speaker and author Marianne Williamson; and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Campbell said Castro “had command of that stage” Wednesday.
She said Thursday’s debate moved faster and was “a little bit more feisty,” especially when Harris (D-California) challenged Biden’s previous stance on busing.
“Sen. Harris was able to bring in racial justice perspective into the conversation,” said Campbell, who hasn’t endorsed any candidate. “You got to hear her tell her personal stories. That’s what I felt in the room from all kinds of folks. I felt Vice President Biden wasn’t ready and didn’t seem to be ready about the concerns of the whole issue dealing with bipartisanship and working with folks who are segregationists and busing.”
Political pundits and commentators posted similar thoughts on social media.
“I’ve watched the debates from start to finish again,” activist and journalist Shaun King tweeted Friday. “I think the two biggest winners were Julián Castro & Kamala Harris. I think the two biggest losers were Beto O’Rouke & Joe Biden.”
As for Campbell, she said voters shouldn’t focus on the number of candidates running, but on their respective positions and how they propose to improve the Black community.
Also, she said, pay attention to any future Republican presidential debates.
“I do believe it is a historic moment we are in,” Campbell said. “It is not just a generational shift, but young people need to feel this and know what’s going on. This is important.”