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Op-ed

Winners and losers in the first Democratic debates

Sen. Kamala Harris soared; Former VP Joe Biden sank

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

All that mattered in the first two Democratic presidential debates, as well as each and every one to come between now and February, is whether or not something occurs to change the numbers in my home state of Iowa.

Because like or not, you need to come out of that first-in-the-nation caucus in the top three or maybe four candidates in order to have a chance in 2020's truncated primary cycle. There is simply not enough time between the Iowa vote in January and when California steps up to bat in March to overcome a bad opening performance.

So with that said, here are my winners and losers from the first two debates:

Winner – Kamala Harris: I think one sign of having a really good night is if you can follow up the next day by fundraising with your own line of promotional T-shirts. Harris' "That little girl was me" branding is simultaneously a total gangsta move, while allowing to capitalize on victim status. And it all happened because she had the ambition to step to the current race's front-runner and "go there." This is clearly a candidate who will do whatever needs to be done to end up on top – Mayor Willie Brown agrees – and because of that will now watch her name ID skyrocket. That's a must in such a crowded field of candidates. Nobody else came close to improving their fortunes as much as Harris did.

Loser – Joe Biden: It's quite a thing when the white former vice president of the first black American president can be turned into a closet Klan member a few short years later by his own party. But that's pretty much the card that Harris deftly played against him. As a result, Biden spent much of the debate fighting for his reputation instead of for the presidency, and it wasn't a good look. He's always been the equivalent of the Democrats' safety school as an opponent for Trump, and that school's reputation has now clearly been tarnished in favor of far more authentically woke options on the ever-important intersectionality scale.

Winner – Elizabeth Warren: She's already made a comeback of sorts after being relegated to joke status for cultural approbation and awkward beer chats. So first of all, she had to make sure that there was no resetting of those storylines right out of debate gate. Not only did she succeed, she showed she is willing to be every bit the good little socialist that Bernie Sanders is. Albeit in a female package, while still somehow being normalized as the grown-up in the room when most of the rest of the room is running for office in Central America. No es bueno. Es estupido.

Winner – Bernie Sanders: He didn't do much, but he really never does. He's just Bernie Sanders, cranky socialist dude, and growing numbers of people in a broken world dig that crap. But with Warren creeping in on his territory, he needed Biden to have a bad night so that he wasn't put in the position of having to fight a two-front war for political survival. I don't think anything could happen in this political cycle to make Sanders go permanently away. After all, he's gotten rich with this Soviet shtick, and he isn't buying green bananas anymore.

What happens next: Every viable campaign but Biden's should be strongly lobbying to narrow the debate stage down to no more than seven or eight combatants. Biden needs to hide in a crowd and hopefully win the nomination on name ID, because once the lights come on his straight white maleness sticks out like an unpopped zit. Especially because he's not a mascot for the hammer and sickle like Sanders, whom people see more as a Trotsky wannabe than a straight white male.

With polls showing the vast majority of Biden's perceived edge in the race coming from black voters, this primary has just now begun to race-bait.

One last thing…
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