Debate recap: Georgia leaders, issues come up late in debate

Latest live updates from the Democratic debate in Atlanta

Georgia leaders like former Mayor Maynard Jackson, Stacey Abrams, Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Rep. John Lewis were all mentioned during tonight’s Democratic debate.

Although it didn’t come up until late, Georgia-specific issues like the “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill and voting rights were topics of discussion.

Read below for our lives updates from debate day.

Watch the debate video:


Here are live updates from Tyler Perry Studios and across the region:

11:22 p.m.: The debate has ended. Google Trends shows that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders saw a spike in searches toward the very end. Mayor Pete Buttigieg saw the largest spike around 10:38 p.m.

11:19 p.m.: The candidate who leads in the polls is given the last word: Vice President Joe Biden.

“Get up,” he said. “Let’s take back this country and lead the world again, it’s within our power to do it. Get up and take it back.”

11:18 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said many of the issues raised tonight touch American and the solutions are known, but government corruption prevents change from happening.

She said government works for those at the top and not for anyone else and mentions her anti-corruption plans that include restricting lobbying and requiring more transparency for candidates.

11:17 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders mentions that he is the son of an immigrant and has a sense of the immigrant experience. "I will stand with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country," he said.

He said he is also committed to fighting against all forms of discrimination and bigotry in this country.

11:16 p.m.: Mayor Pete Buttigieg in his closing speech name-checks former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. He said the country needs to provide a sense of belonging to those who have felt excluded.

11:14 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said to beat Trump a nominee is needed to go toe-to-toe with him and she already has taken on other powerful man. She also said someone is needed with experience and ability to speak to all people regardless of race, gender, language, or geography.

She reminds the audience that she has spent her entire career in public service, never working in the private sector.

11:12 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar references the open hearings under the House impeachment investigation. She said a coalition must be built not just to beat President Trump but flip the Senate.

11:11 p.m.: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said Trump is a symptom of a larger disease and it must be addressed to make the nation better for our children.

He said he never fantasized about running for president but decided to do it to make things better for the kids.

11:09 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard mentions Martin Luther King Jr., his work for racial justice. She said Democrats need to defeat the divisiveness of Trump and work together.

“Let’s make Dr. King’s dream a reality,” she said.

11:07 p.m.: Billionaire activist Tom Steyer said it's time to get new people in charge and Democrats need to nominate someone willing to challenge Trump on the issues.

“I’m the person who can do it,” he said.

11:05 p.m.: We are officially in overtime and we've reached closing statement. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is first and mentions he needs help qualifying for the next debate.

Then he says he is going to toss his prepared remarks and talks about seeing U.S. Rep. John Lewis in the audience and tells the story about Lewis’s civil rights work.

H said American needs a leader to inspire people and, using a phrase from Lewis, said he is ready to cause “good trouble.”

11:00  p.m.: Buttigieg pivots from a question about saying he would send troops to fight the Mexican cartele to another attack on U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and whether she is more loyal to Republicans and Trump than the Democratic Party.

Things got a little tense during what has otherwise been a mostly tame debate.

10:58 p.m.: Voting rights are finally the topic of discussion. Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the GOP-lead Senate should approve the voting access bill approved in the Democratic controlled House.

He also said he supports making Election Day a federal holiday and making it easier for people to register to vote and to cast their ballots.

“Right now we have politicians picking out their voters rather than the other way around,” Buttigieg said.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Buttigieg is saying the right words but she has the experience in Congress working on these issues. She mentions her bill to hold social media companies accountable for political ads and also a bill requiring paper ballots.

“I think experience should matter,” she said.

Buttigieg hits back with what could be one of the quotes of the night.

“Washington experience is not the only experience that should matter,” he said. The he mentions the collective years of political experience on the stage and asks what the country has to show for it.

You could hear the crowd howling.

10:50 p.m.: Georgia's abortion law, known as the "heartbeat" bill, is brought up. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the right to abortion should become law in the U.S. She also said she would fight to restore funding to Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said abortion is a human right and an economic right, giving women the ability to make choices for their own body. Laws restricting abortion hit poor women and girls the hardest, she said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said men should get involved and see the abortion issue as a fight against government’s intrusion in citizens’ private lives.

10:47 p.m.: We are coming out of what should be the final commercial break. Most of the remaining time will be used by candidates to give their closing statements.

10:45 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said he wants to bring the conversation back to a focus on African-Americans. He talks about how drug laws have disproportionately affected black people and gets several applause lines.

Former Vice President Joe Biden chimes in that he believes marijuana should be decriminalized and any conviction records expunged.

Then he uses this chance to brag about his support in the black community, especially from black politicians. “A whole range of people,” Biden said.

“That is not true,” Booker said.

10:42 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the government should use taxpayer dollars dismantle portions of President Donald Trump's border walls if they serve no clear purpose.

She then brings up the issue of family separations at the border and evokes the images of children in cages that gripped America.

“When I found out that our government was actually taking away children from their families, I went down to the border; I went down there immediately,” Warren said.

10:38 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris discusses the Democratic Party's reliance on support from African-American women while they continue to disproportionately face pay inequality, maternal mortality and the effects of police brutality.

“The question has to be where you been and where are you going to do and do you understand what the people want?” Harris said.

She said she is the candidate best positioned to address these issues in an authentic way. But Mayor Pete Buttigieg said his time leading South Bend, Ind., has given him tools he would use in hopes of connecting with black women.

10:34 p.m.: Former Vice President Joe Biden got a question about how he would respond to the "me too" movement. He said first he will push Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which he wrote.

He spoke about the need to engage men in the discussion about domestic violence in America. But then he uses an unfortunate metaphor about “punching at” the issue. The crowd laughed nervously.

10:28 p.m.: OK we were wrong below: there is a second commercial break and we've reached it now. So far, no questions about Georgia's "heartbeat bill" that has been interpreted by critics as an anti-abortion measure.

There also haven’t been any questions specifically about the issues of voting rights and voter suppression that became such a huge topic during last year’s governor’s race and Stacey Abrams’ narrow loss.

10:22 p.m.: It appears that Andrew Yang has piqued the interest of debate watchers. According to Google Trends, he has had three peaks in searches for his name tonight at 9:34 p.m., 9:46 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. That third spike, we're guessing, was after his Putin comment (see below).

The green line is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, which had an early spike around 9:35 p.m.

10:18 p.m.: The Republican Party of Georgia is out with some counter-messaging about issues raised during the debate.

10:15 p.m.: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang gets this question: if elected president what is the first thing you would say to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

“I’m sorry I beat your guy,” Yang quipped, to applause.

10:04 p.m.: Businessman Tom Steyer, a self-funded candidate, gets a chance to play up his reputation on working to improve the environment. He said he is the only candidate on stage who has put environmental issues first in his campaign, including reducing the country's reliance on fossil fuels.

“I will declare a state of emergency on day one,” he said to pass reforms that address climate change.

9:55 p.m.: We have reached the first scheduled commercial break halfway through the debate. And we'll use this time to direct you to our report of what folks are reacting to on social media.

First, Joe Biden’s campaign accidentally sent his post-debate fundraising email out this afternoon.

“I’m leaving the fifth Democratic debate now,” it says. But the debate was hours away from starting at that time. Ouch.

Then, once the debate began viewers began to comment that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a slight shake or shiver as she speaks.

More here on what folks on Twitter had to say about that and the debate in general.

9:53 p.m.: After focusing on family-related issues like paid parental leave and equal pay for women, the debate now pivots to affordable housing.

“Our housing problem in American is a problem on supply side,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.

She said she has a plan to build 3.2 million affordable housing units across America.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker brings up the effects of gentrification across U.S. cities.

9:40 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker speaks about healing and bringing the nation together if he is elected president to succeed Donald Trump.

“We are a nation that achieves great things when we stand together and work together and fight together,” Booker, the former Newark, N.J., mayor said.

He also points out that, like Buttigieg, he is also a Rhodes Scholar mayor on the stage. A Huffington Post analysis of news reports pointed out that Buttigieg's Rhodes credentials are mentioned considerably more often than Booker's.

9:31 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar becomes the first candidate to name check Stacey Abrams. (Earlier, Joe Biden was the first to mention the state of Georgia.)

Klobuchar said without voter suppression, Abrams would be the governor of Georgia. The audience applauded loudly.

9:30 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris goes on the attack against U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, saying she joined Republicans in attacking President Barack Obama during his tenure.

Gabbard defended her record, saying these are false attacks that ignore her history of service to America.

9:26 p.m.: Another point of contrast among the candidates as they debate whether "Medicare for All" is the right way to expand healthcare. Both Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have advocated for different versions of "Medicare for All."

Former Vice President Joe Biden says voters don’t want this type of healthcare overhaul and encourages improving President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act instead.

9:16 p.m.: We are seeing contrast among the candidates when it comes to how to pay for new initiatives and programs designed to help the poorest and neediest Americans.

Elizabeth Warren defends her proposed wealth tax while U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said he believes that is the wrong way to go.

9:09 p.m.: There were no opening statements, and the moderators got right to it with the U.S. House's impeachment inquiry as the first topic. There are five senators on stage – Warren, Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, Sanders – and the question is about whether they support impeaching Trump and whether they will try to convince GOP colleagues to do the same.

8:50 p.m.: The candidates have arrived and taken their places on stage. The debate will begin in mere minutes. 

Watch political columnist Jim Galloway, political reporter Greg Bluestein and Washington correspondent Tia Mitchell preview what to expect tonight.

8:15 p.m.: Watch the latest episode of LIVE In Context, which was is of course focused on the debate. Your hosts are the Joseph Ferguson and Maya T. Prabhu.

7:45 p.m.: AJC political columnist Jim Galloway writes his debate night perspective:

“We are an hour and change away from the start of the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta since 1992, in a media center built to hold 500 or so representatives of the press – international, national and local.

“MSNBC is one of the sponsors. And its giant TVs spread over several acres. But none are focused on Sound Stage No. 1 at Tyler Perry Studios.

“No TV hosts are sitting in talent chairs in front of hot lights, previewing the two hours of dialogue about to happen.

“Instead, every TV is tuned to the impeachment inquiry in Washington and its groundbreaking news. This debate is important, especially for Georgia Democrats. But it has clearly been overshadowed.”

7:22 p.m.:  The AJC's Jim Galloway caught up with Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams just now. She was showing off her debate-night shoes.

Back outside, the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America turned out to support Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump,” said Rishab Chawla of Atlanta, supporting a lighted Bernie sign. “He’s able to energize a multi-racial, multi-class coalition.”

Adding to the carnival atmosphere outside the studio: a “Truckers for Yang” semi has been circling around, drawing cheers from candidate Andrew Yang’s supporters.

6:54 p.m.: 

As buses chartered people onto the debates grounds, residents stood on street corners outside the gates holding signs and cheering in support of their preferred candidates and other social causes. 
One Andrew Yang supporter waved fans while standing on stilts. A truck plastered with pro-Trump signs circled the area.

One of the more entertaining ore-debate demonstrations came courtesy of a marching band promoting the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools. The band parades along Hardee Avenue outside the studio.
Kimberley Dukes of the Powerful Parent Network said the group does not only support charter schools, but wants excellent schools for all children.
"We understand there are a lot of failing charter schools," Dukes said. "There are a lot of failing public schools."
She said the group does not endorse candidates, but wants to ensure they get the message that educational choices are important.

6:33 p.m.: A small group of Donald Trump supporters had arrived by 6 p.m. Debbie Dooley with the Atlanta Tea Party said they are here to "show support for President Trump" amid the "impeachment witch-hunt." She said the impeachment inquiry is making Trump's base stronger. She doesn't believe Georgia is on the verge of turning blue since "the candidates have moved so far left."

Robert Kunst traveled from Miami Beach to protest what he called the "Demorat Party." He said he's a registered Democrat, but decried the party's effort ton impeach Trump.
"I hope we have a landslide that teaches them a lesson, to stop playing games," he said.
Kunst sported a "Gays for Trump" sign and said he fought for gay rights in Florida. But he called the Democratic demonstrators around him "a collection of yahoos."

6:15 p.m.: Stacey Abrams got candidate-level attention when she arrived Wednesday at Tyler Perry Studios. Swarmed by a few dozen reporters, the Democrat plugged her Fair Fight voting rights initiative and talked about why she plans not to endorse any presidential contenders.

“I plan on being very involved in the race by pushing for conversations and policies on how we end voter suppression, how we build a democracy agenda and how we do the work to ensure the 2020 Census is a fair Census.”

Asked if she felt the moderate candidates were on the rise, Abrams said the race is “deepening.”

“We are getting more thoughtful information,” said Abrams. “As we get closer to the primaries, we’re going to start to see more robust discussion – and a deeper discussion – about not only what we want to see happen but how it happens.”

“The entry of other candidates signals the excitement around this race – people know that we can win,” she added. “They know Democrats have the best values and the best ideas, and they want to be part of the conversation.”

5:56 p.m.: Outside the studio gates, several dozen demonstrators chanted "abolish ICE" to protest the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We’re here demanding that they end family separation,” said Geovani Serrano,” a community organizer with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “We’re here to demand they end deportation.”

Atlanta resident Lucy Sharpe turned out to support Joe Biden.
"That 'e' is for extra Sharpe," she said. "That's why I support Biden."
Sharpe said the other candidates are "too socialist for me."
"I don't think everything will be free," she said. "I don't think education will be free. I don't think healthcare will be free. That's just too socialist for me."
She said Biden "is the only one who can beat Trump."
"It's clear that Mr. Trump is worried about Biden," she said. "He's gone worldwide with it.

5:12 p.m.: By 5 p.m. scores of the candidates' supporters were already stationed outside the venue.Maggie Goldman, Georgia volunteer coordinator for Pete Buttigieg, said 150 supporters are expected.Given his recent rise in the polls, Goldman expects Buttigieg to come under fire at tonight's debate."I think Pete's going to get a lot more air time," she said. "He's probably going to be defending himself the entire time."

4 p.m.:  Later today, this room will be filled with about 500 journalists covering tonight's debate. But right now, folks are just trickling in.

This is also where candidates and their surrogates will circulate after the debate to make their pitch about winners and losers. That’s why it’s known as the “spin room.”

3 p.m.: Republicans aren't planning a major event to counter Wednesday's debate, but the GOP leaders are trying to make the most of the debate, too.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan sent out a fundraising plea for his new Advance Georgia group, urging supporters to "listen closely to the policy positions staked out by this new, far left, Democrat party."

And U.S. Sen. David Perdue started the day with an interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "Political Rewind" accusing Democratic candidates of "trying to out-left themselves."

“Nobody has owned up to what this would cost and how it would change the fabric of our country,” he said of the candidates’ plans.

He also talked about Gov. Brian Kemp's search for a U.S. Senate candidate, which took a twist Wednesday when U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said he was "strongly" considering a run even if he's not appointed.

Pressed by host Bill Nigut whether Kemp should seek a candidate who is a minority for the post, here’s what Perdue said:

“The better question is who is going to best serve those constituencies. I’m a white guy, but I’ve been more involved with HBCUs and federal justice reform and all of those things that have helped that particular community moreso than anybody else I’ve seen in Georgia.”

Here is some useful information about the debate, the candidates and what to expect tonight.

The presidential debate is coming to Atlanta, here's how to watch

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