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Blubaugh: Democrats focus on wrong numbers at presidential debate

According to the Nielsen folks, Wednesday’s debate among the Democrats vying for the presidential nomination was the most-watched Democratic debate in history, with some 20 million tuning in. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same audience as the season premieres of “American Idol” and “Survivor" as well as the NBA All-Star Game generated — combined.

Viewers were treated to quite a show, even by Vegas standards. Given all that happened and the tremendous viewership, it seems this will be the rare debate that actually plays a significant role. It is likely to help determine the eventual nominee, inflicting as it did substantial harm to one candidate while elevating others.

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The real question, though, is: Did it help anyone in the Democrats’ ultimate quest of unseating President Donald Trump?

To paraphrase state Sen. Justin Ready, speaking on another topic and giving my favorite quote of the week, “That’s a big fat no.”

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Most of the pre-debate buzz focused on multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg making his first appearance. After spending more than numerous countries’ gross national product on advertising — his commercials generally sticking to the theme of “I can beat Trump” without actually showing him speaking — Bloomberg shot up in the polls. By most estimates, he went into Wednesday’s debate ranking second only to Sen. Bernie Sanders nationally.

The other candidates went after him relentlessly, bashing him about the stop-and-frisk policy in place when he was mayor of New York, how unfair it is to everyone else that he has so much money and his conduct relating to women, from comments made to nondisclosure agreements reached (although they didn’t attack him about his height, leaving “Mini Mike” comments to Tweeter D).

Sen. Elizabeth Warren set the tone immediately. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against. A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she said.

Ouch. It never got better from there for Bloomberg, who obviously wishes all of what happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas. Sanders, in particular, kept hammering Bloomberg about his net worth, which is north of $62 billion.

(Issues with misogyny and policy are understandable. Focusing on eliminating the rich? Billionaires build companies that create jobs and products that make people’s lives better. As can philanthropy. Bloomberg donated $3.3 billion to charity last year, or $3.299999 billion more than pretty much every other American. Should they be taxed more? Of course. But blame that on those elected to Washington, like several figures on stage lobbing grenades at Bloomberg.)

Bloomberg didn’t help himself, coming off as about as prepared for this debate as I used to be for algebra tests. Will he drop in the polls now, the way previous debates and post-debate coverage sank Warren and Joe Biden?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn’t help herself any, either. Everybody forgets names from time to time. Seemingly having no idea who the president of Mexico was during an interview is a pretty big slip-up, and absolutely fair game for her to be called on. When Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t let her off the hook with her rehearsed answer, she sounded ridiculous by asking, “Are you calling me dumb?” No, he hadn’t. But that retort left people wondering.

Not that Buttigieg did himself any favors, now that everyone knows what a devotee of Sanders he used to be. And Biden? He spent the entire night either trying to remind people he was still stage or that he once worked for President Obama.

By most accounts, Warren had the strongest night. But she has less than half the support she had four months ago, according to combined national polling data compiled by fivethirtyeight.com. Which leaves the Democratic Party establishment with the one person it didn’t want in 2016 and still doesn’t want in 2020.

Sanders.

Bloomberg’s one good line on Wednesday came when he said, of Sanders, “The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire who owns three houses.” But it was a glancing blow. The Bernie Bros are like the disciples of Donald; their support is unconditional.

Sanders is polling at 26% or so, giving him about a 10-point lead over anyone else. Right now, he’s the clear front-runner. In deference to Las Vegas, let’s call him the odds-on favorite. In fact, the Vegas books have him at even money to win the nomination.

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But forget about the nomination as we circle back. Did the debate help anyone in the Democrats’ ultimate quest of unseating Trump? Those same Vegas books now have Trump at minus-170 to win, meaning he’s nearly a 2-to-1 favorite. (Ask sports fans how good the Vegas books are at setting odds.)

Post-debate, Gallup poll results have Trump’s approval rating at a personal-best 49%, have 43% of independents supporting him — the biggest number of Trump’s presidency — and have 45% of the country “satisfied,” the highest that number has reached since February 2005.

Perhaps these numbers, rather than someone’s net worth, are the ones Democrats should be worried about at the next debate?

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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