MIAMI (AP) — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren demanded “structural change” in the economy and the government as Democrats met on the debate stage for the first time in the 2020 presidential season, highlighting a rift within her party’s most ambitious contenders over how aggressive they should be in confronting problems of inequality.
Her rivals, including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, suggested a softer approach, at least on some issues, but declined to attack Warren by name in the early minutes of Wednesday’s prime-time clash. The focus on change came in the early moments of a debate that marked the unofficial starting line for the Democratic Party’s quest to wrest the White House from Donald Trump and deny him a second term.
“I think of it this way. Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” Warren declared. “That is corruption pure and simple … and we need to make structural change.”
While the crowded field has been courting voters in key states for several months already, the vast majority of the nation has yet to pay close attention to the diverse field.
That began to change Wednesday night as a collection of 10 candidates, led by Warren, faced each other on national television for two hours. The overall field is so large that a second group of 10 Democrats, led by early front-runner Joe Biden, will debate 24 hours later.
The groupings were chosen at random by debate host NBC.
Democrats are unified in their deep desire to beat Trump but divided on what kind of candidate is best positioned to do so.
On one side: candidates like Warren who are demanding dramatic change that includes embracing liberal policy priorities like free universal health care, debt-free college, a forgiving immigration policy and higher taxes on the rich. On the other: pragmatic-minded Democrats like Biden — and little-known former Maryland Rep. John Delaney — who are calling for modest policy solutions that could ultimately attract bipartisan support.
Beyond Warren, Klobuchar and Delaney, Wednesday’s slate featured Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and ex-Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro.