Who won, and who lost at the first one-on-one Democratic debate

Joe Biden walked out of Sunday night’s debate in a commanding position in the Democratic presidential primary after Bernie Sanders failed to land needed punches to slow the former vice president’s momentum, said The Post’s debate expert Eric Phillips.

“Bernie Sanders had to change the trajectory of this race and he did not do it,” commented Phillips, who previously served as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary. “I think we’re talking about a matter of days before Sanders has to give it up.”

Phillips said that not only did the sometimes gaffe-prone Biden manage to avoid major stumbles, he also managed to project the needed strength to reassure voters frightened by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country — which has hit New York especially hard.

“The Biden that we saw Sunday night — when he’s rested and put in a position to project steady leadership — can absolutely go toe to toe with Donald Trump,” he added. “Biden did what he had to do and in a moment when everyone is understandably nervous about leadership, Biden was the one on the stage who projected it.

Joe Biden: The nation is panicked and Joe Biden seemed like the person you’d rather have on the wheel to steer us out. He seemed rested and he delivered his best debate yet.

Arrow: Up

Bernie Sanders: Bernie needed to upset the trajectory of this race and he did not do it. He needed to extract progressive commitments out of Biden and he did not do it. That’s a loss.

Arrow: Down

Phillips said the debate featured three key moments that allowed Biden to claim a win — sometimes thanks to Sanders’ inability to box in his former Senate colleague.

1) Health care: “We’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and Bernie couldn’t find a way to make this debate about health care. That needed to be his imperative. If anything, Biden put him on the defensive over single-payer in countries that haven’t contained coronavirus.”

2) Their records: “Bernie had Biden on the ropes over past Social Security comments. And Biden scored points on Bernie’s conservative record on guns. It was strange that neither seemed prepared for the obvious attacks.”

3) Foreign Policy: “Biden’s debate goal was to seem presidential — and on foreign policy, he was his most compelling. Bernie’s past support of authoritarian regimes was an easy entry point for Biden to globetrot the audience through his resume and make Bernie seem quixotic.”

Phillips is a longtime Democratic political adviser to local, state and federal campaigns and elected officials. He spent four years at City Hall, including three years as Mayor de Blasio’s longest-serving press secretary. He now works at a global crisis communications firm.

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