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Credit: Tamara Wurman

Penn Democrats gathered to watch the third Democratic debate on the night of Sept. 12, giving members a chance to form opinions on their preferred 2020 presidential candidates in the hotly contested primary.

About 40 students had mixed reactions to watching 10 Democratic presidential candidates debate health care, combating racism, and trade policy in a watch party in Harnwell College House's first floor lounge.

In the third debate of the presidential primary cycle, 10 candidates convened in Houston for the three-hour long showdown. Because of stricter polling and fundraising guidelines set by the Democratic National Committee, tonight's debate featured fewer candidates than past debates, which had to be split between two nights.

Penn Dems members greeted the more exclusive lineup, which featured all of the top contenders on the same debate stage for the first time. Biden supporters cheered his pragmatism, while others were skeptical of instances where the former Penn Presidential Professor of Practice misspoke.

On show at the debate, hosted by ABC News, were former Vice President Joe Biden, former Penn Law professor and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

During the debate, more progressive candidates, such as Warren and Sanders, reiterated their stances that the United States should implement a "Medicare For All" plan.

 "I've actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company," Warren said when advocating for the policy. "I met people who like their nurses, I've met people who like their pharmacists, I met people who like their physical therapists."

Candidates such as Klobuchar who have positioned themselves as more moderate took the opposing view, arguing the program would harm Americans.

"While Bernie [Sanders] wrote the bill, I read the bill," Klobuchar said, prompting murmurs of approval from the Penn Dems crowd. "We will no longer have private insurance as we know it."

On the other hand, Biden's argument for "Medicare for choice" prompted confusion from the Penn Dems crowd, with many reacting negatively to the phrasing. However, there was still some approval of the former vice president's plan on health care. 

Co-president of Penn for Biden and former Penn Dems President Dylan Milligan, a Wharton senior, said Biden's proposals were the most realistic.

"He succeeded in saying, in terms of health care, I'm trying to be realistic," Milligan said. "How are you guys going to pay for Medicare for All?" Milligan added, summing up Biden's attacks of the proposal.

The candidates also sparred over approaches to combating racism. Many of the candidates argued for large, sweeping changes to confront bigotry.

"We need a systemic approach to dismantle [racism]," Buttigieg said. "It's not enough to just take a racist policy, replace it with a neutral one, and expect things will just get better on their own."

Members of Penn Dems said the agreement on a number of key issues shouldn't come as a surprise, given the similar goals sought by many of the candidates. 

College sophomore Cassandra Ingersoll was at the watch party and said agreement between the candidates was positive for the party. She said the reduced number of candidates for the third debate made the event far more productive than the first two.

"The debate [is] a lot more substantial and a lot more conducive to the issues that we've been talking about," Ingersoll said. "All the candidates have the same goals for the future."

Penn Dems President and College junior EJ Carlson said while many members were laughing at various misstatements or blatant pandering, many candidates also had moments to shine. 

"Most candidates are getting a lot of negative reactions. I think this is just kind of one big roast of everyone," Carlson said. "[But] everyone is having their share of positive moments."

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