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Inside Sources: Democratic presidential debates in Detroit: Night II, Round II

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., gestures to former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In Part II, Boyd Matheson, host of “Inside Sources,” breaks down the Democratic presidential debates from Detroit. Read Matheson’s take on Night One here.

The second night of the second round featured less substance and more fighting coming from unusual places, according to Matheson.

Matheson says the social media-buzz moment from the first debate in Miami came from Sen. Kamala Harris of California when she took on former Vice President Joe Biden. But she didn’t seem to be prepared for the same Wednesday night when she came across as flatfooted during an attack from, of all places, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

“Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor,” said Gabbard. “But I’m deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”

Gabbard accused Harris of blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row and kept prisoners beyond their sentences to use as cheap labor in California.

The look on Harris’ face, Matheson observed, was very similar to the look Biden wore in the first debate when he looked around and said, “You’re questioning me?”

Harris’ staff should have known, Matheson said, that as a top-tier candidate one of her rivals was going to go after her record.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been trying to get traction and her campaign has been one of the early disappointments, said Matheson, so it’s not surprising she took a swing at Biden.

“Mr. Vice President…what did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home it’s resulting in, quote, ‘the deterioration of family?'”

Biden was ready for it and, in Matheson’s view, delivered.

“I wrote the Violence against Women Act. Lilly Ledbetter. I was deeply involved in making sure the equal pay amendments. You came to Syracuse University with me and said it was wonderful.  I don’t know what’s happened except that you’re now running for president,” Biden responded to long applause.

Booker shines, Harris darkens

The big winner of the night’s debate, Matheson said, was Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. He struggled and seemed overprepared and over-scripted in the first debate.

But Wednesday night, “It was the Cory Booker I saw in the halls of Congress,” said Matheson.

“I have a frustration that sometimes people are saying the only thing they want is to beat Donald Trump. Well, that is the floor and not the ceiling,” he said in closing. “He wants to take all the oxygen out of the room. It’s when we start focusing on each other and understanding that our common bonds and our common purpose to address our common pain is what has saved us before. It’s what’s going to save us now.”

Contrast his closing statement with that of Harris.

“We have a predator living in the White House,” she began. “Donald Trump has predatory nature and predatory instincts. And the thing about predators is this. By their very nature, they prey on people they perceive to be weak. They prey on people they perceive to be vulnerable. They prey on people who are in need of help, often desperate for help. And predators are cowards.”

Harris chose to go dark, Matheson said.

“It was very clear that this was a target against President Trump,” he said, “[but] doing it in your closing argument at a debate is not a great place to do that.”

“I think that was a huge mistake for the Harris campaign to go that dark,” Matheson said.

“The American people are not a grievance society,” he pointed out. “We get mad, we get plenty mad — that is very American, for sure, but we don’t stay there. In America, there’s not time to wallow in it.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum

Matheson asked former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and ex-presidential candidate in 2012 about his takeaways from the stage as a commentator for CNN during the debates in Detroit.

“How much the Democratic Party has moved to the left,” Santorum said. “To see folks who are as liberal and…progressive as you would have ever seen in Democratic politics complaining and attacking the Sanders-Warren wing of the party as just being out of touch with reality is just a remarkable thing to see.

“These people are really extreme,” he added “and yet they are becoming the center of the Democratic Party.”

Matheson asked Santorum: “What’s the one thing in this country that we should all be talking about, but we’re not?”

“The breakdown of the family. And our birthrate is almost Western European. Obviously, popular culture in undermining traditional families, news media is undermining traditional families.  We need to understand as conservatives that you can’t have limited government if you don’t have strong families,” said Santorum.