What the 2020 Democrats Are Like Behind the Scenes

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[18 Questions. 21 Democrats. Here’s What They Said.]

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was in a vivid temper on the morning of March eight. That night, she would maintain a rally in Long Island City, the proposed dwelling of a sprawling Amazon advanced, to denounce the tech big. The antimonopoly coverage she introduced that day would begin her roaring comeback within the 2020 Democratic major.

But first, Ms. Warren visited The New York Times.

She was the primary of 21 presidential candidates who agreed, over three months, to be interviewed on digital camera for a mission aimed toward introducing the various Democratic subject to folks throughout the nation and world wide. And within the course of, we caught some non-public glimpses of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and others that stunned us.

We had been skeptical at first that almost all of them would take part. Running for president is a busy ordeal, and any interview includes some danger, particularly when it features a video digital camera. We didn’t inform them what the questions can be forward of time.

But one after the other, the candidates agreed: first, Ms. Warren, former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and former Representative John Delaney of Maryland. Next, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Ms. Harris of California, in addition to Julián Castro, the previous housing secretary. And then, regularly, the remainder of them.

The exception was Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was invited to reply the identical questions however declined to take part.

We designed the inquiries to discover variations throughout the Democratic subject, and to attract out the candidates on issues of each coverage and character. We skipped topics on which Democrats appeared to carry uniform views — whether or not they believed rich folks ought to pay extra in taxes, for example — and centered as an alternative on points the place we may spotlight less-obvious distinctions, equivalent to whether or not they thought it was applicable for billion-dollar fortunes to exist in any respect.

[See their responses on billion-dollar fortunes.]

Our aim was to get the candidates to supply clear, direct solutions, reasonably than carry out their rehearsed traces on a broad theme. When we requested whether or not American troops must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, we needed a sure or no, not a discourse on how the struggle there may be difficult.

[See their responses on troops in Afghanistan.]

In the tip, the clearest fault line we discovered might not have been between liberals and moderates, or insurgents and insiders, however between candidates who had been keen to offer definitive solutions and those that weren’t. On this entrance, the movies communicate for themselves.

At occasions, candidates flashed revealing glimpses of their inside lives. When we requested, for example, the place they might journey on their first overseas journey as president, it was instantly obvious which Democrats had frolicked envisioning that journey of their heads. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas immediately named Mexico, whereas Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey replied with unmistakable sincerity, “I’ve given a whole lot of thought to that, and it’s not one thing I’m going to be telling The New York Times about proper now.”

[See their responses on where they would go on their first international trip as president.]

But a few of the most telling — and in some instances, jarring or endearing — moments with the candidates occurred off digital camera, or outdoors the context of the interview. Mr. Hickenlooper, for example, confirmed up at our workplace flustered as a result of he had misplaced his pockets, and confessed sheepishly that it had been a very long time since he had handled sure indignities of being a non-public citizen. Learning after the interview that his flight dwelling had been canceled, Mr. Hickenlooper took the event in stride; he lingered within the newsroom, bantering with our colleague Stephanie Saul about Teddy Roosevelt’s relationship with the muckraking reporters of his day.

Ms. Harris arrived on the newspaper with a grievance and a request. She requested Patrick Healy, our politics editor, if The New York Times may make it simpler to learn articles offline on the paper’s smartphone app — an necessary consideration for a West Coast lawmaker who’s repeatedly confined to transcontinental flights with spotty Wi-Fi.

Ms. Harris — who was at her most animated within the interview when discussing her ardour for cooking — additionally requested to fulfill Sam Sifton, the meals editor. Soon, the 2 had been kibitzing about recipes amid a maze of desks and a gathering crowd of onlookers. (Ms. Harris was much less excited when Carolyn Ryan, a masthead editor, approached to ask her a few blossoming late-March disaster for Mr. Biden, involving his bodily habits with ladies.)

Mr. O’Rourke, equally, was animated earlier than his interview: On a sound stage in Austin, Tex., the place we met him, Mr. O’Rourke spent quite a lot of minutes chatting with our photographer, Tony Cenicola, about their erstwhile rock bands. And Mr. Booker tolerated some joshing about his high-profile private life — he’s relationship the actress Rosario Dawson — earlier than pleading that the alternate be handled as off the report.

Some candidates had been attentive to their self-care routines within the chaos of a marketing campaign. Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who visited the workplace in the course of the tumult of his marketing campaign kickoff, left in haste after his interview — in order that he may take a run within the metropolis earlier than hopping on a flight to Iowa.

And a couple of had been plainly reluctant to fulfill with The Times.

Mr. Sanders, who periodically castigates the information media, resisted scheduling an interview for months, and informed a reporter jokingly in mid-May that he would think about taking part within the video mission to reward the newspaper for its “fantastic therapy” of him.

“Treat me pretty,” Mr. Sanders cautioned, “and I’ll deal with The New York Times pretty.”

Yet Mr. Sanders agreed a couple of weeks later to fulfill with us in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and when he walked into the lodge convention room the place our cameras had been arrange, he was as gracious and well-coiffed as we’ve ever discovered him. He even answered a sequence of non-public questions of a sort he often disdains, telling us with real tenderness that nothing relaxes him like spending time along with his grandchildren.

[See their responses on how they relax.]

Ms. Warren, who had the doubtful distinction of going first, breezed by means of our preliminary listing of a few dozen questions earlier than telling a reporter that there had not been sufficient inquiries concerning the economic system. When that reporter cited the query about billionaires, she shot again: “That’s a Kardashian query.”

Ms. Warren proceeded to carry court docket on the third ground of the newsroom, outlining her views on tech regulation earlier than dozens of reporters, together with some from the Metro desk who sought to tempt her into criticizing Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Amazon-admiring governor. (She resisted the bait.)

Ms. Warren later returned for a second session, in Washington, D.C., in May, as a result of we determined after her leadoff interview so as to add a number of extra questions, rising the listing to 18. Among them had been queries about handguns and the loss of life penalty — and the regulation of Amazon and Facebook.

[See their responses on handguns and the death penalty.]

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