Former vice president and Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden came under heavy fire over health care, immigration and criminal justice reform on Wednesday, but fought back against a stage full of rivals eager to knock him off his perch during a contentious debate.
On the second night of back-to-back debates among Democrats vying to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020, Biden came prepared to do battle after facing criticism for his sometimes unsteady performance in the first debate in Miami last month.
However, it wasn't Biden who drove the most online interest according to Google trends, which tracked searches during the debate. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was by far the most searched candidate — repeating the same amount of interest from the previous debate she participated in.
In one particularly tense moment, Gabbard questioned California Sen. Kamala Harris' criminal justice record when she served as attorney general in the Golden State.
“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations, then laughed about it when asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard argued.
“She blocked evidence — she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” Gabbard continued, to big applause from the audience.
Tensions have been building among party rivals in recent weeks. Biden has been jockeying with Harris and Sen. Cory Booker for the support of black voters, a vital Democratic constituency.
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Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, is currently suing Google for $50 million, accusing the seach engine of suspending her advertising account in the hours after June’s debate because it was trying to silence her.
Tulsi Now Inc., a campaign committee for the candidate, says in the lawsuit filed Thursday in California that Google violated the Hawaii congresswoman’s right to free speech. The lawsuit says Google didn’t provide “a straight answer” for suspending her ads account.
Google spokesperson Riva Sciuto said in a statement that its automated systems that flag unusual activity triggered a suspension and that Gabbard’s account was quickly reinstated. Scuito denied that Google has a political bias.
Gabbard says Google’s actions “should be of concern to all political candidates, and in fact all Americans.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report