Gender on the Debate Stage: March 15th Numbers

Betsy Fischer Martin | Mar 16, 2020


For a full recap of the March 15th debate numbers, head here.

In the age of Coronavirus, what was possibly the last scheduled Democratic debate of the primary season was a debate like no other. In what was the first two-person forum,  Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders appeared together (yet socially distanced by six feet) in a closed-set debate broadcast from a television studio.

In the almost 3 weeks since the last debate in Charleston, SC, two of the remaining female candidates, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, dropped out of the race. Tulsi Gabbard remains in the race but did not qualify for the debate. In a nod to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the debate was moved from a 5,000-person concert hall in Phoenix to a small studio in the CNN Washington Bureau that accommodated just the three moderators, a technical crew and the two candidates.

Co-hosted by CNN and Univision, the debate ran two hours and featured a total of 85 questions and rebuttal prompts posed by moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Ilia Calderon.   The serious nature of the debate in the midst of a mounting public health crisis, coupled with the lack of a raucus live audience made for a mostly substantive and sober exchange of ideas.

In terms of gender, the big headline out of the debate was Biden’s promise to pick a woman as his running mate.

The news stemmed from a question about women’s physical and financial health posed remotely via a recorded video by an undecided Arizona voter, Amy Langenfeld.

Sanders, answering first, promised a cabinet that “will look like America.”  And then continued to outline his position on reproductive health, domestic violence, pay equity and universal childcare.

Biden then responded by repeating his promise, first made in the Charleston, SC debate last month that he would “appoint the first black woman” to the Supreme Court and added: “If I’m elected president, my — my cabinet, my administration will look like the country.  And I commit that I will, in fact, pick a woman to be vice president.  There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.  I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”

Sanders, given the chance to make the same commitment would only say that “in all likelihood” he would select a woman, adding, “it was his “very strong tendency to move in that direction.”

Within six minutes of the debate concluding, the Washington Post posted a “shortlist’ of potential female runningmates including: Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) , Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (MI) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA).  Among those to watch: Stacey Abrams, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Gov. Gina Raimondo (RI), Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (IL), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Rep. Val Demings (FL).

Of the 85 total questions and rebuttal prompts, the main topics covered were:

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