On Oct. 13, Las Vegas hosted the first of six Democratic Party presidential debates. Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went toe-to-toe for the first time in the 2016 presidential race. To the dismay of many, it did not have the same fireworks as the first two Republican debates. If you tuned in for nihilistic attacks and the occasional misogynistic remark, the Democratic debate was not for you.
Whether a product of fewer characters onstage (11 vs. five), or a product of the character of the candidates onstage, the Democratic debate was what a debate should look like: substantive back-and-forth about the pressing issues facing our country and the candidates’ proposed solutions. In the brief segment that CNN moderator Anderson Cooper tried to increase the theatrics and pit the candidates against Clinton over her email scandal, Sanders was quick to redirect the conversation back to issues of policy. In what became the line of the night, Sanders yelled to Clinton, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”
From the outset, it was the Sanders and Clinton show, but the much anticipated inaugural clash of the two runaway Democratic candidates saw few haymakers thrown. Clinton delivered a polished performance, solidifying herself as the more experienced debater of the two. She appeared presidential and genuine in her remarks, accepting with alacrity the difficult questions about Benghazi and her issue consistency.
Sanders, too, delivered a solid performance. He educated the American people about what “Democratic socialism” actually means and introduced his strategic tax plan to fund some of his proposed policies, like his plan to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. He spoke esoterically at times when discussing economic issues and fumbled when discussing gun control. While Sanders might be the king of the mega campaign rally, he has some work ahead of him if he is going to match Clinton’s debate acumen.
The jury is still out as to who the winner of the debate actually was. Ask any media pundit and they will tell you Clinton won unequivocally. Ask anyone on Twitter or Facebook and they will tell you Sanders won—also unequivocally. If the polls are any indication of debate performance, then Sanders won. He narrowed Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic voters by two percent, from 18 percent to 16 percent. As it stands after the debate, Clinton leads with 45 percent, followed by Sanders’s 29 percent, Joe Biden’s 18 percent, (if he enters the race), Webb’s one percent, and O’Malley and Chafee dwelling in less-than-one-percent land.
It was often easy to forget that there were three other candidates on the stage with Sanders and Clinton. Chafee did little to remind us of the rationale behind his campaign. His hollow showing prompted articles like this one from The Washington Post: “How to Disappear Completely, by Lincoln Chafee.” The Democratic oddball Webb also failed to make much noise, both literally and figuratively. He spoke the next to least amount of words among the five Democratic candidates, and in the time he did speak, he spent it squabbling with Cooper about the little time he was being given to speak. O’Malley had his moments, like when he listed the National Rifle Association as his biggest political enemy and when he called Donald Trump the “carnival barker in the Republican Party,” but ultimately failed to put together a performance that would galvanize excitement for his candidacy.
None of the three “other guys” got the post-debate boost they desperately needed. Before the debate, Webb registered at one percent in the polls, with O’Malley and Chafee registering below one percent. The CNN Poll taken days after the debate showed no movement. With little funding to expand campaign operations, expect these candidates to withdraw rather quickly. Just as these campaigns seem to be winding down, another could be born: that of Biden’s. He is set to announce this week his intention for the 2016 race. If he decides to run, it will send shockwaves throughout the Democratic race. The second Democratic debate is slated for Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.