Round Two Of Democratic Debates: Healthcare, Immigration And A Little Bit Of Climate Change

This report will be updated through the evening.

12:10 a.m.

Just before the debate kicked off, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky announced her endorsement of Pete Buttiegieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The Buttiegieg campaign confirmed to WLRN that the candidate spoke with Parkland Mayor Hunschofsky on Monday.

“What the endorsement underscores is that he is the candidate — who is uniquely, sort of being the candidate from the school shooting generation — to understand the urgency of addressing this. And I think that factored very strongly into her endorsement,” Liz Smith, a senior advisor to the campaign, told WLRN.

Buttiegieg opponent Rep. Eric Swalwell launched his presidential campaign only miles from where 17 people were killed in a school shooting last year. Swalwell congratulated Buttiegieg on winning the prized endorsement, and also issued him a challenge.

"Congratulations to Mayor Pete," Swalwell told WLRN.

"I've had the support of a lot of the Moms Demand Action in the Parkland community, and I am devoted to making ending gun violence my top priority," he said. "I hope Mayor Pete comes out and endorses my plan to buy and ban back the exact type of weapon that killed those children in Parkland."

11:45 p.m.

Frontrunner Joe Biden came under frequent attacks during Thursday's debate, taking his biggest hit from Sen. Kamala Harris.

Harris challenged the former vice president's record on race, demanded to know why he opposed busing and praised two southern senators and segregationists.

Afterward, she told MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews that she did not believe Biden was a racist. 

"I have a great deal of respect for Joe Biden.  I do not blieve he's a racist," she said.

But she went on to say Biden's comments had consequences.

"These issues are real in our country and we have to speak truth about it," she said.

Thursday marked the end of the two-day debate that put 20 Democratic candidates on stage and under scrutiny.

11:20 p.m.

Within moments of the debate ending, Greenpeace said climate change again got short-changed on the debate stage.

“This is not how you behave in an emergency. Despite the candidates’ acknowledgement of the existential threat that climate change represents to humanity, we heard next to nothing over two days about how they would actually address this monumental challenge," Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a statement. "Talking points and soundbites do not cut it anymore."

The organization posted signs around the Adrienne Arsht Center Wednesday that read "Five minutes, 27 seconds." The group said that was the amount of time devoted to climate change during the entire 2016 debate cycle.

Earlier this week, a poll of Democrats showed 63 percent wanted to hear about climate change, more than any other issue, the group said.

10: 55 p.m.

Climate change got a little more attention on day two of the Democratic debates, but not much.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper helped pass a law regulating methane gas in his state and has proposed using it as a model for controlling carbon emissions. But with the U.S. contributing just 15 percent, Hickenlooper said the real trick will be convincing other countries to limit emissions.

"Ultimately, if we’re not able to do that, we’ll be doomed to failure," he said.

When asked by moderator Rachel Maddow if he could cut emissions without backing from Congress, Biden emphatically answered yes, then ran down a laundry list of solutions: wind farms and more renewable energy; 500,000 charging stations to make all U.S. vehicles electric by 2030; and $400 million in new science and technology.

He also strongly defended his former boss's record when moderator Chuck Todd said President Barack Obama had succeeded at getting healthcare reforms passed, but failed at addressing climate change.

"He's the first man to bring the entire planet together," he said.

Bernie Sanders called for action against the "common enemy."

"Take on fossil fuel," he said. "The future of the planet rests on us doing that."

10:45 p.m.

Former Monroe County Commissioner Shirley Freeman switched parties in 2000, becoming a Democrat her last year in office. With the second night of the debate nearing its end she said no particular candidate stood out and she was happy with all of them. 

“I am so thrilled that there is such a strong cadre of people out there that want to do the right thing," she said. "People ask me who’s my favorite— I don’t have a favorite. I’d be pleased for any of them to be president.”

10:15 p.m.

A question about race sparked a skirmish between Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Earlier this month, Biden praised the "civility" of two late senators, James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both of whom were segregationists. The comments renewed questions about Biden's history on race.

"I did not praise racists," Biden barked at Harris after she raised the issue and questioned why he opposed busing. Harris said she was among the first young students bused in Berkeley, California 20 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

"Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?" Harris asked.

"I did not oppose busing in America," Biden insisted. "I opposed busing by the Department of Education."

9:50 p.m.

A young, diverse and rowdy crowd packed the outdoor patio at Gramps, a popular bar in Wynwood.

The debate was projected onto a large screen in front of a stage usually graced by drag queens on Thursday nights. The crowd is littered with “Bernie” signs, but there’s a loud and enthusiastic contingent of Kamala Harris fans here, too, judging by the cheering and applause.

 

Credit Jessica Bakeman WLRN

The biggest cheer, though, came at the start of the program, when the moderators announced Miami as the location. The watch party was organized by a slew of Democratic groups, including abortion rights activists with Planned Parenthood, who handed out pink T-shirts at the event.

9:10 p.m.

 

For the second night in a row, the Democratic Club of Boca Raton and Delray Beach gathered at the Boca Lago Country Club. Some who'd left early Wednesday night after problems with the club's sound system hoped for a smoother night.

The club took up two rooms with seven televisions between them.

Ryan Rossi, 34, the club's vice president for programming, said he wants to see more debate about immigration.

"I don't think they talked about it enough last night," he said.

Rossi, a fan of Joe Biden's, said he thinks the former vice president is the most likely to win over  voters in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and deliver the electoral college votes needed for a Democratic victory. 

"He's not as inspirational, but at this point it is about who can win," he said. 

Valerie Knapp, 65, and visiting from Connecticut, came to the debate party to watch Bernie Sanders. 

Trump's election proves "anybody can be president," she said. The Democrats need to learn that lesson from the 2016 election, she added. "You can't use the excuse that Bernie Sanders isn't electable."

8:55 p.m.

As the debate was about to start in downtown Miami, protesters lingered outside, including about 50 Trump supporters.

Martha Baker, a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital and local chapter president of the Service Employees International Union for healthcare, stopped by before heading to a watch party at Mike's Bar at the nearby Venetia.

Baker was still undecided about the candidates. 

"I think it's way early," she said. "You know, I just want to hear everybody speak. I like Kamala Harris, I think it's time for a woman personally, but you know I'll take anybody but Trump. 

About 30 members of the chapter showed up to demand better healthcare and a $15 minimum wage.

8:20 p.m.

Round two of the Democratic debates kicks off Thursday evening but not before one candidate outraged his own party ealier in the day by quoting Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara. In Miami.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who participated in Wednesday's debate, made the gaff during a union rally at Miami International Airport. As he backed their efforts to unionize, de Blasio told workers the eyes of the world were watching, then repeated Guevara's rallying cry: "Hasta la victoria, siempre."

De Blasio quickly expressed regret after Democrats, including State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and State Rep. Annette Taddeo called for him to apologize.

The drama seem to overshadow an earlier simmering controversy: the near lack of climate talk at Wednesday's debate in a city considered among the most vulnerable to a warming planet.

Just seven minutes were given to the issue more than two hours into the debate in a hall named for philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, who gave $25 million in April to start a center to deal with climate impacts. Demonstrators outside the hall marched from the Freedom Tower to cap a monthslong effort leading up to the debate to draw attention to the issue.

"I know that some of these candidates have weighed in on these issues but we didn’t hear that from the stage last evening," said Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Susan Glickman. Glickman had fifth row seats and will be at Thursday's debate.

Thursday morning, she ran into U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders outside her hotel and made a request: "I asked him to do his best tonight to bring clarity to the severity of...the climate crisis."