Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Democratic Debate Recap

(If this note is still here, this entry was written before the debate, and I didn't make it back to the office after the debate but before publication)

Last night the Democratic Party got together for the first of six primary debates last night at the Wynn Las Vegas. It was broadcast on CNN and Facebook, and moderated by Anderson Cooper, with additional questions asked by Dana Bush, Juan Carlos Lopez, and by voters submitting questions on Facebook.

Going into the debate, the RealClearPolitics average placed the candidates as follows:

Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and former Secretary of State, 42%

Bernie Sanders, Independent Senator from Vermont, 25.4%

Joe Biden, Vice President (who isn't running), 18.6%

Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia, 0.9%

Martin O'Malley, former Mayor of Baltimore and former Governor of Maryland, 0.6%

Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican and former Governor of Rhode Island, 0.2%

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, completely ignored by the polls

So last night, with six announced Presidential candidates, five people took the stage.

Hillary Clinton entered the debate believing that this is her election to lose. It was her election to lose five months ago, but the circumstances have changed significantly, and tonight she needed to do better than not lose. She needed to win. I'm writing this before the debate, so I'm not comfortable saying how well she did. Mrs. Clinton is a strong debater with an exceptional mastery of the issues, and she knows what voters want to hear. That definitely came out last night, and it will be interesting to see how the electoral landscape changes over the next couple weeks. Early reports are calling this a win for Mrs. Clinton.

Bernie Sanders took the stage in a very different position than he would have if the debates had begun a month or two earlier. He's been surging in the polls, and many articles have been describing him as the front-runner. He needed to win last night, too, but this was his debate to lose. Senator Sanders has a strong understanding of the compelling issues of our time, and the people of the United States tend to agree with his positions on those issues. Since Senator Sanders doesn't really care whether his positions are popular or not, it was easy for him to stay on message. He held his own well when challenged on gun control, and he never took the bait when the moderators tried to get him to attack his fellow candidates.

Vice President Biden sat out, but continues to assure us that he has not made up his mind about running. He isn't running.

Jim Webb, who has been getting basically zero press even though he's polling better than Martin O'Malley, spoke strongly about his military experience. He's the only Democratic candidate who served in the military, and he's clearly hanging his hat on his foreign policy expertise. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Jim Webb cannot effectively differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on his area of expertise, and he's completely out of touch with the Democratic Party on everything else, so we can't expect to see much movement on his poll numbers.

Martin O'Malley heroically avoided saying "All Lives Matter," but he can't escape the perception of his record in Baltimore and Maryland, and the fact that he's basically just a watered-down version of Bernie Sanders on most major issues. Because civil forfeiture never came up at the debate, he wasn't able to talk meaningfully about any issue by which he could clearly distinguish himself from any other candidate. I don't think we can expect much of a bump for him, either.

Lincoln Chafee, who used to be a Republican, was always basically a moderate Democrat idealogically. and that's exactly what he showed us last night. The moderators were kind enough to throw him a bone by bringing up his signature issue, the metric system, but it's really not a big enough issue to get voters going. Don't expect a huge bump in the polls for him. In fact, he's probably going to announce he's dropping out before the next debate.

Lawrence Lessig wasn't there because pollsters refuse to include him in the polls and the Democratic Party refuses to acknowledge his candidacy. He tried to do a live-tweet of the debate, but he's basically only pushing one issue, so he sounded like a broken record.

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