The final Democratic debate of 2015 focused on the economy, foreign policy and of course, Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley all had choice words for the billionaire businessman.
The three Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley — gathered in New Hampshire for their third debate on Saturday. Clinton, while in a battle with Sanders in the Granite State, entered the race as the dominant front-runner. Did the last debate of 2015 change that dynamic?
Here are six takeaways:
Voter database? What voter database?
On the eve of Saturday’s debate, the Democratic race was, albeit briefly, roiled by news that Sanders’ campaign staffers had accessed the Clinton campaign’s voter data. The revelation led to a firing, a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee by Sanders and the DNC suspending, then restoring, the Vermont senator’s access to the party’s voter database.
The uproar led to some of the sharpest exchanges of the campaign, so would it dominate the debate Saturday night?
In a word, no.
The issue led off the debate, but was soon after dispensed with by Sanders and Clinton. Sanders explained the chronology of what transpired, criticized the Clinton campaign for trying to make hay of it in the press, but then offered an apology to her, which Clinton said she appreciated.
“We should move on,” Clinton said. “Because I don’t think the American people are all that interested in this.” Hours before the debate her campaign spokeswomen posted a statement suggesting Sanders’ campaign of stole their data, but hey, let bygones be bygones.
Clinton more focused on Trump than anyone
During the early days of the Donald Trump campaign, the Democratic front-runner seemed amused by the billionaire’s White House bid. Now? Clinton clearly sees him as an ideal foil as she increasingly looks past the primaries to November.
She blasted his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, calling him “ISIL’s best recruiter.” She claimed ISIS is “showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadist.”
Clinton repeatedly turned the conversation away from any differences she had with Sanders and O’Malley to the fact that they would all be better than any of the Republican candidates, particularly Trump — which, incidentally, is a similar line GOP candidates have used about her in their debates.
Please return to your seats
It won’t actually affect the outcome of the 2016 race at all, but anyone who watched Saturday’s debate will remember the odd and awkward moment when ABC came back from a commercial break with Hillary Clinton missing on stage. Moderator David Muir jumped right into the question, as Clinton eventually made her way back. Acknowledging the odd moment, Clinton simply said, “Sorry.”
We’ve watched a lot of political debates. The only time we’ve seen an empty spot was Clint Eastwood’s empty chair prop at the 20102 Republican convention.
O’Malley, way behind in polls, comes out swinging
You can’t say he didn’t try. The former Maryland governor has struggled to gain any traction in the Democratic presidential race, polling in the low single digits nationally and in the key early states. On Saturday, he took a more aggressive posture than in previous debates, blasting Clinton and Sanders on gun control, Clinton on banks and more.
In the gun debate, his joint attacks on the two briefly united Clinton and Sanders, as the Vermont senator said he should “calm down,” while Clinton urged him to “tell the truth.”
Will it actually help O’Malley at the polls? Odds aren’t in his favor.
Sanders likes Clinton, hates her Wall Street friends
The Vermont senator took every opportunity to compliment Clinton, saying he admired her service as first lady and agreed that issues such as dealing with Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi is not easy. But Sanders trotted out a series of issues where he stands to Clinton’s left. He supports government-funded health care while she supports minor reforms to the Affordable Care Act; she is too quick to embrace “regime change” while he voted against the Iraq War in 2002; and, mostly, she is too cozy with Wall Street. Sanders said Clinton will get millions of dollars in donations from Wall Street, but he will not. Corporate America doesn’t like him, Sanders said, and “Wall Street is going to like me even less.”
Bill Clinton for Treasury secretary?
Republicans are likely to remind their base at every opportunity that getting Hillary Clinton in the White House would also mean the return of Bill Clinton.
Asked by moderator Martha Raddatz whether the role of presidential spouses should be redefined, the former first lady said that while she would still choose the china for state dinners. But she said she expects to turn to Bill for advice on important policy issues, particularly “how we are going to get the economy working again for everybody, which he knows a little bit about.” Likely an appealing prospect for Democratic voters for whom the 42nd president remains quite popular.
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