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Progressives own the first debate night

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders looked like Democrats' de facto leaders and policymakers last night, in the opening half of the party's back-to-back Debate 2.

The state of play: The two progressives dominated the clock. Warren had the most speaking time and Sanders was second, with Pete Buttigieg third.

Both spoke to Democrats who are tired of small ball.

  • Warren: "I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States, just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for."
  • Sanders: "I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas." 

Why it matters ... Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who warned the party this week about moving too far left, told Axios' Mike Allen after the debate:

  • "No one was the happy warrior — a collective shortcoming. We are so angry at Trump, we are letting it get the better of us."

CNN's debate structure — with candidates pressed into abbreviated answers, often in response to a rival — frustrated the more centrist campaigns:

  • All of your policy proposals that you share with people watching are suddenly in the context of someone else's policy plan.
  • That eats away at your talking points for those issues, and for your ownership over your own policies.
  • And it's a big win for the progressive wing of the party.

Buttigieg, 37, drew applause when asked if voters should take age into consideration when picking a president:

I don't care how old you are. I care about your vision. ... Because the only reason we got this president is that normal didn't work. ...
[I]f you are watching this at home and you are a Republican member of Congress, consider the fact that, when the sun sets on your career and they are writing your story — of all the good and bad things you did in your life — the thing you will be remembered for is whether, in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him, or you continued to put party over country.

Some other takeaways: Tough night for the moderates ... Beto O'Rourke vanished ... No one mentioned Joe Biden by name.

What's next: The fun continues tonight on CNN at 8 p.m. ET with 10 more candidates.

  • To try to make up for Biden's shortcomings last time, some of his prep sessions (though not exclusively) have been with smaller groups of advisers, with aides asking him what he thinks instead of over-prepping and jamming his head.

Go deeper: 4 big moments from the debate