Beto O'Rourke

There was something different about the Democratic debate this week, compared with the earlier rounds this summer. Something was happening that was hard to pin down, but it was palpable. Not the contrast of night and day, but perhaps the difference between dusk and dawn.

It's a critical difference, and it comes at a crucial time. Because the Trump presidency these candidates are competing to truncate has reached what may be a critical juncture. But more of that in a moment.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke gave a staunch defense of his gun control plan during Thursday's Democratic presidential primary debate, saying that as president, he would prioritize mandatory buybacks of assault-style weapons.

Quoting the candidate's past comment about selling back AR-15s and AK-47s, moderator David Muir asked O'Rourke: "Are you proposing taking away their guns? And how would this work?"

O'Rourke answered, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

Here's more of what he said:

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September's Democratic presidential debate has been narrowed to one night only, as more candidates have called it quits altogether.

There are now less than five months to go before the first votes are cast in the Democratic presidential nominating contest. So the spotlight is going to be even hotter on the 10 candidates who made the cut for Thursday's debate in Houston. (Follow NPR's live analysis here.)

Labor Day has long been an unofficial start to election season. So far, two rounds of Democratic debates, and two fundraising deadlines have revealed a lot about where the Democratic primary stands.

The Sept. 12 Democratic debate stage is set with just 10 candidates, ensuring there will be a one-night event in which the front-runners will finally come face to face.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dropped his bid for president Thursday.

"Today, I'm ending my campaign for president. But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together," Hickenlooper tweeted.

He had been urged to run for Senate in Colorado, challenging Sen. Cory Gardner. In a video attached to his tweet, he said he would give that "serious thought" but made no announcement.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is the ninth Democrat to qualify for September's next presidential primary debates.

Yang crossed the threshold on Thursday after a Monmouth poll in Iowa put him at 2% support. He had previously hit the donor requirements of 130,000 unique donors from 20 different states. His campaign had said he qualified outright based on an earlier poll, but the Democratic National Committee said it wouldn't count that poll.

Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit was widely expected to pit the two leading progressives in the field against each other. Instead, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had each other's backs in fending off the other eight aspirants onstage.

They gave as good as they got, and emerged at least as strong as either was going in. That was particularly good news for Sanders, who had been perceived as ceding ground to Warren in recent months.

Angela Hsieh/NPR

It's Night 1 of two of the July Democratic debates, airing on CNN from 8 to 10 p.m. ET. The first set of 10 candidates is making their case as to why they should be the next president of the United States.

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