John Delaney Gets His Moment in the Sun

Ten Democratic presidential contenders on the stage of the Fox Theater in Detroit Tuesday night. Photo by Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance

Former Maryland congressman John K. Delaney got the attention he craved at the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night.

But whether it helps his cause in the 20-plus candidate field remains to be seen.

CNN moderators Jake Tapper, Don Lemon, and Dana Bash attempted to draw out sharp contrasts between the ambitious progressive platforms of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the more measured approach of many of the other candidates on the stage at downtown Detroit’s Fox Theatre.

Delaney was the first of the more moderate candidates to go on the attack Tuesday night, hitting Sanders and Warren for “bad policies like Medicare for all” and other liberal policy prescriptions. Delaney, the first of the candidates to enter the White House race, in July 2017, touted himself as a candidate offering “real solutions, not impossible promises.”

With time, several other Democrats on the 10-candidate stage – including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan – also criticized Sanders’ and Warren’s proposals, warning they could turn off moderate voters and guarantee President Trump’s reelection.

Warren and Sanders vociferously defended their positions, and got the most speaking time, according to The New York Times. Warren spoke for 18 minutes and 33 seconds during the 2 1/2 -hour debate, and Sanders spoke for 17 minutes and 45 seconds. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was next, with 14 minutes and seven seconds.

Warren and Sanders saved some of their ire for Delaney, who boasted of his entrepreneurial background and policy chops – and noted repeatedly that his father was a union electrician.

“I don’t understand why anyone goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” Warren said, directly rebuking Delaney, who was on CNN’s split screen as Warren spoke. “Our biggest problem in Washington is corruption, with corporations that have taken the government and are holding it by the throat, and we need to have the courage to fight back against that.”

When Delaney talked about his experience launching a profitable health care company, adding, “I don’t think my colleagues understand the business,” Sanders dismissed any discussion of health care as a profit-making venture.

“It’s not a business,” he scolded.

But Delaney insisted that his health care plan would eventually cover all Americans, without forcing people to give up their private insurance, the way a single-payer system would.

“Well I’m right about this,” he said. “We can create a universal health care system to give everyone basic health care for free. And I have a proposal to do it. But we don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country who has private health insurance that their health insurance is illegal.”

Overall, Delaney spoke for 10 minutes and 31 seconds, seventh of the 10 candidates.

“In the history of debates, no candidates polling this poorly has gotten as much time as John Delaney,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former top campaign strategist and White House aide to President Obama, observed on Twitter Tuesday night.

Still, the Delaney camp was pleased with the candidate’s performance, and released a series of favorable comments from other observers.

Candidates also debated the decriminalization of illegal border crossings, an issue which became a major flashpoint after June’s debates in Miami. Although candidates disagreed on the finer points of criminal and civil law when it came to migrant crossings, they were unified with one overarching message — that the Trump administration’s immigration strategy has been a humanitarian disaster.

“We’ve got a crisis on our hands,” said Buttigieg. “And it’s not just a crisis of immigration; it’s a crisis of cruelty and incompetence that has created a humanitarian disaster on our southern border. It is a stain on the United States of America.”

The candidates also talked, more briefly, about the economy, climate change, infrastructure, and the Flint, Mich., water crisis.

The second half of the Democratic presidential debate, scheduled for Wednesday night on CNN, will feature former Vice President Joe Biden, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California, Sen.Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, businessman Andrew Yang, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The next round of Democratic debates will take place in September, and with more stringent requirements based on polling and fundraising, it is widely expected that the number of candidates on stage will be diminished considerably. Delaney has largely self-funded his campaign, and his ability to make it to the next round of debates remains an open question.

Derek Robertson from The Michigan Advance, reporting from Detroit, contributed to this report.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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