Hillary Clinton may be the presumed Democratic nominee, but at Sunday’s debate, she sounded like a desperate candidate trying to take down a front runner. From the beginning, an angry Hillary Clinton blasted Bernie Sanders, accusing him of not being supportive of President Barack Obama. If anyone doubted that the Clinton campaign is rattled over Sanders’ surge in Iowa and New Hampshire, this debate ended those doubts.
The last debate before Democrats vote in Iowa New Hampshire was held Sunday night, televised on NBC and streamed on YouTube. Some in the DNC hoped few voters would watch. Nevertheless, 7.9 million viewers tuned in, more than the two previous debates. Since YouTube was co-hosting, more millennials undoubtedly watched.
New polls show Sanders is ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire by double digits, and within the margin of error in Iowa. He leads Clinton two to one among voters under 45. Clinton’s recent attacks on Bernie Sanders have given the Democratic race more attention. Up to now, the media has focused almost entirely on Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton is a skilled debater, and those skills were evident Sunday. She invoked Obama’s name in nearly every answer—much like Republican presidential candidates in their debates, albeit with a different slant. It was clear that Clinton wanted to present her candidacy as Obama’s third term.
Nevertheless, early indications are that Bernie Sanders held his own, or perhaps even won. At a minimum, Clinton did little to move the needle in the early voting states. In the first hour when most viewers in Iowa and New Hampshire were watching, Sanders was the center of every discussion. As Chris Cillizza wrote, Sanders dominated every issue from Wall Street reform to health care to climate change.
NBC’s Chuck Todd said on Morning Joe Monday, the debate was a contest between “pragmatism versus idealism.” Clinton represents establishment pragmatism in a year when the electorate is angry and rejects the establishment. Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of political caution when voters in both parties demand boldness. As NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeted “Hillary Clinton is eminently knowledgeable, but she’s in effect calling for continuity at a time when lots of people want discontinuity.”
Clinton doubled down on her attacks on Bernie Sanders, accusing him of trying to dismantle Obamacare, Medicare, and children’s health programs despite the fact PolitiFact said her charge is “mostly false.” She continued to blast the senator on gun control, painting him as being pro-NRA. She made more than a dozen statements inferring that Sanders was not supportive of President Barack Obama. Sanders pushed back hard on every attack.
Sanders responded calling Clinton’s attacks “disingenuous.” He said he has a D- rating from the NRA, and he called her statement that he was going to dismantle Medicare “nonsense.” In response to Clinton’s statement that he was the only one on stage who voted to deregulate Wall Street in 2000, Sanders reminded the audience that vote was on a bill that Bill Clinton was pushing. She was not in the senate at the time.
One of Sanders’ largest applause lines came in response to a question about his criticism of Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions. He said that even though he thought Bill Clinton’s behavior was wrong, he has never once brought it up. He said the campaign he is running is about policy, not personal differences.
Sanders also returned Clinton’s fire, pointing out differences between them on breaking up big banks. “I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs,” he said to both boos and applause from the crowd in Charleston, S.C. “You’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year,” he added. “I have doubts about people receiving large amounts of money from Wall Street.”
One theme Sanders repeated over and over is that the problems facing America can’t be solved until the “corrupt campaign finance system” is reformed. He said that billionaires and big corporations own the Congress and that is the reason that incomes have stagnated and equal pay has not been passed. He pointed out that he does not accept corporate donations and PAC money.
Clinton is making a big gamble attacking Bernie Sanders. It could motivate his supporters to work harder. It may drive first time voters to go to the polls in the primaries—which is how Obama defeated Clinton in Iowa and other primaries and caucuses in 2008. All eyes are on Iowa February 1st.