DETROIT—There’s an elevated train here, in the city’s downtown, called the People Mover. It doesn’t cost much to ride. It goes in a loop every 15 minutes or so. It moves only in one direction, around and around.
It’s a lot like the Democratic primary, after two rounds of formal debate and seven months of campaigning. There have been flashes of dynamism in the campaign so far, candidates who’ve popped for a news cycle or two. But take a step back, and the race has barely changed since before the weather grew warm. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the front-runner in every poll, but he’s a weak front-runner, without a commanding lead or evidence of deep attachment among the voters surveyed. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is holding on to his core voters, but he doesn’t seem to be expanding their ranks. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Senator Kamala Harris of California; and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are always in the mix in third or fourth place. And then there’s everyone else: the candidates who sometimes grab as much as 4 or 5 percent but rarely more, and rarely for more than a few days. The only major change is that former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, a onetime front-runner, is now firmly a part of the latter tier.
Last night’s debate represented, in many ways, what a presidential-primary debate should be: strong, polished candidates having a sharp, substantive discussion about crucial issues facing the country. Biden showed much more energy than he did with his Rip Van Winkle impression at the previous debate. Harris had another scrap with Biden, which is what she seemed to want. And several candidates who’ve been eager for more public attention got what they were looking for: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, for example, had two of the biggest moments onstage.