The second night of the Democratic presidential candidate debates Thursday was much like a long-anticipated movie sequel that was supposed to be a summer box office blockbuster – but came up short.

It seemed like the audience was waiting for the plot to thicken between the frontrunners – former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

There was anticipation that the two would attack each other like boxers in a head-to-head slugfest, leaving the remaining eight Democrats on stage out of focus as bystanders.

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That wasn’t the case. The old adage “don’t make assumptions” proved true once again.

Sanders and Biden – the presumed stars of the debate – were the least impressive of the 10 candidates on the stage. Both seemed tired, rehearsed and out of touch, but in different ways.

Biden seemed unfocused, distracted, and stuck in the past, invoking President Barack Obama’s name like Obama was a rock star who Biden met backstage once rather than the president Biden served with for eight years.

Sanders and Biden – the presumed stars of the debate – were the least impressive of the 10 candidates on the stage. Both seemed tired, rehearsed and out of touch, but in different ways.

Sanders came off like he was trying to right the wrong of his loss in a 2016 grudge match against Hillary Clinton.

Neither Biden nor Sanders offered new solutions to today’s problems, nor did they offer a creative path forward for a stronger America tomorrow.

DNC chairman Tom Perez critiques the candidates' debate performanceVideo

Biden was supposed to be the most moderate and the most electable contender. Sanders was supposed to be the democratic socialist who would lead a revolution. But over the course of the night, both proved they needed to be recast.

Watching the debate, I learned never to presume that a candidate who seems “electable” on paper will actually be elected by the American people.

Instead, two much younger candidates who don’t fit the profile of any previous president impressed me the most: Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a woman of Jamaican and Indian descent; and South Bend, Ind.., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a gay man.

Both Harris and Buttigieg showed they have the right stuff to convince the electorate they have what it takes to both win the primary and beat President Trump in 2020. They didn’t do it by invoking identity politics. They did it by showing they understand the needs of the nation, without wholeheartedly pandering to far-left Democratic primary voters.

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Harris and Buttigieg did not make the argument that they needed to be supported because they checked some box. They exhibited leadership skills, policy acumen and authenticity. These are traits voters are attracted to regardless of gender, color or sexual orientation.

The debate should teach the Democratic presidential candidates a valuable lesson: be yourself and show Americans what you stand for. A ticket that could combine a Midwestern mayor and a U.S. senator from California should worry Trump, and be a real threat to his chances of winning a second term in the White House.

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