By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – In a debate that repeatedly turned heated among Democratic hopefuls seeking their party's 2020 nomination Thursday night, one thing united the ideologically and generationally diverse field: their contempt for President Donald Trump.
There was no shortage of fiery exchanges during the second night of debates, including a searing back and forth between former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris on Biden's record on race.
Democrats laid bare their diverse prospective policies on health care, gun control and their visions for America's future. But in so doing, they also ripped into one another, at times viscerally.
Biden, who is the early frontrunner heading into 2020, at several junctures in Thursday's debate was the target of his fellow Democrats' ire.
"Pass the torch," California congressman Eric Swalwell said, recalling words Biden spoke over three decades ago.
The 76-year-old former vice president quickly retorted: "I'm still holding on to that torch."
If either Biden or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 77, is elected president, they would be the oldest top executive in U.S. history. Both are leading in the polls.
But it was Harris who struck out at Biden in one of the undoubtedly rawest exchanges of the night.
As one of only two black candidates among the pack of 20 Democrats who debated Thursday and Wednesday nights — 10 each night — Harris said that while she does not believe Biden is a racist, she takes issue with his history of working with segregationist senators during his over three-decade Senate career.
"It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country," she said in one of the night's most livid exchanges.
But Biden appeared prepared for the salvo, saying Harris mischaracterized his record and that if the campaign should be litigated on who supports civil rights, "I'm happy to do that."
"I was a public defender. I didn't become a prosecutor," he said, making a pointed jab at Harris' career choice. "I left a good law firm to become a public defender when in fact, my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.]."
Harris has faced significant pushback from some progressives and some in the black community for a record of policies during her time as a California prosecutor and later the state's attorney general they say exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Up until Thursday night, the wide Democratic field had largely refrained from such bitter back-and-forths. But throughout the race and continuing in the second debate was a continuing focus on Trump as they sought to galvanize Democrats and moderates to unseat the president.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is a moderate, raised the alarm bell over some of the more leftist candidates, saying they risk losing a possible showdown with the president.
"If we turn toward socialism, we run the risk of re-electing the worst president in U.S. history," he said.
Sanders, the progressive vanguard, defended his chances of ousting the president if nominated, saying recent polls show him leading the president "because the American people understand that Trump is a phony, that Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign."
"He said he was going to stand up for working families. Well, President Trump, you're not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off the healthcare that they have, and that 83% of your tax benefits go to the top 1%. That's how we beat Trump. We expose him for the fraud that he is," he said.