MIAMI -- Round two of the Democratic presidential primary debates offered one of the toughest tests to date for front-runner Joe Biden, who was on the defensive at multiple points, especially over his comments and record on race.
The former vice president sought to defend controversial aspects of his tenure in the U.S. Senate and explain a recent comment in which he highlighted his good working relationship with segregationist senators as an example of the "civility" that is lacking in modern politics.
The most explosive exchange of the night came when U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who had a breakout performance, pressed Biden on his civility comment and his opposition to federally mandated busing of children to desegregate schools.
Harris called Biden's comments on working with segregationists "hurtful."
The senator went on to note that she was bused as part of integration efforts.
"That little girl was me," she said. "So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."
She continued to press the issue, asking: "Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?"
Biden said he never opposed busing, only federally mandated busing. But Harris said the federal government needed to step in because states and local governments resisted desegregation.
"I ran because of civil rights, I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights," Biden said.
The exchange was a difficult moment for Biden, who also was criticized by Rep. Eric Swalwell, of California, who used the vice president's own words to say he needed to pass the torch to a new generation.
"Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago and he's still right today," Swalwell said.
Biden shot back that he was "still holding onto that torch."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been polling in second place behind Biden, also was a target, with his liberal policies driving much of the early discussion.
As with the first debate Wednesday, pocketbook issues such as health care and college affordability were a major focus, with the candidates divided over Sanders' plan to offer free public college and eliminate most private health insurance policies with a "Medicare-for-All" system.
"We think it is time for change, real change and by that I mean health care in my view is a human right," Sanders said.
Pressed on whether his policies would increase taxes on the middle class, the senator acknowledged people would pay more but argued they would pay less overall because of cheaper health care premiums and other costs.
But Biden and others said the party should focus on universal health care coverage through efforts such as strengthening the Affordable Care Act.
"You can't expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many of whom don't want to give it up," said former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The crowded Democratic field led to the debates being split into two nights, with 10 candidates debating Wednesday and another 10 going Thursday.
Thursday's matchup also featured Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Michael Bennet, author Marianne Williamson, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
With four of the top five-polling candidates -- Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris -- on the stage Thursday, it was the more-anticipated debate night.
The second round also offered an unusually diverse group of candidates in terms of ideology, age and life experiences.
Buttigieg, 37, would be the youngest president in America history, while Sanders, 77, would be the oldest.
Buttigieg was especially forceful in calling out the Republican Party for emphasizing religious values while promoting an immigration policy that the mayor said lacks compassion.
The debate also offered a big spotlight for individuals who are not well known to many voters, from low-profile politicians such as Bennet and Hickenlooper to the pair of outsider candidates, Yang and Williamson.
Yang has attracted some buzz for his tech savvy and policy positions such as universal basic income, which would give a monthly cash payment to everyone over 18.
Yang said Thursday that Donald Trump became president because so many manufacturing jobs were automated. Many more jobs will be automated in the coming years, creating the need for an economic security blanket, he added.
A best-selling author of spiritual books, Williamson hasn't received much attention in the race so far. Her health care views stood out Thursday, as she argued that the nation's problems go much deeper than health care affordability.
Williamson said many Americans have "unnecessary and chronic illnesses" and more attention must be paid to environment, food and chemical policies that contribute to public health problems.
Harris received strong applause at multiple points and was forceful throughout the debate, including during an exchange that saw the large group talking over each other.
"America does not want to witness a food fight," she said. "They want to know how we're going to put food on their table."
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