There’s no “Junior Varsity” debate tonight as the Democratic candidates for President take the stage for their first big discussion of the 2016 election season.
You know what that means: It’s time to fire up the Colorado Pols Debate Diary once again.
*NOTE: The most current update appears at the top of the page. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time.
Picking a winner of this debate seems almost irrelevant given the overall tone of the evening. With a few exceptions, the candidates largely avoided criticizing each other and presented a cohesive message about the stark differences between Democrats and Republicans. Hillary and Bernie both performed well, but the night clearly belonged to Clinton. She was sharp and to the point, and she spoke with a smile and an eloquence that Democrats have been waiting to hear. This could be a turning point in the campaign for Democratic voters who were concerned about Clinton’s ability to be a true frontrunner; it’s safe to say that Hillary calmed a lot of nerves tonight.
A few more thoughts:
– Martin O’Malley had a good night. He’s not going to get a huge jump in the polls, but O’Malley really looked like a Presidential candidate, and we’d be surprised if he doesn’t pick up some new admirers.
– Jim Webb is crazy as shit. He really said this in response to a question about political enemies that he was most proud to have made: “I would say the enemy solider that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around anymore.” Um, yeah.
– CNN should be embarrassed with their moderators tonight. Anderson Cooper was too focused on questions and answers, and his overbearing demeanor made it difficult for any spontaneous exchanges to occur. Dana Bash is awful. Four people asking questions is about two people too many.
Chafee: Nothing worth repeating.
Webb: He’s starting to sound like a crazy person. His closing statement is all over the place, jumping from issue to issue. Ends with something about campaign finance reform.
O’Malley: Talks about being grateful to be on this stage with other Democrats. Brings up the major differences between this debate and Republican debates: There were no racist or sexist comments, and nobody was belittled because of their religious beliefs. Ends with a call to get to the “goodness of our country,” with positive examples of changes on gay rights, immigration, etc. Very strong.
Sanders: Closes the same way he began — by railing against income inequality in America.
Clinton: “In this debate, we tried to deal with the very tough issues facing our country.” Echoes theme that Democratic debate is much different than Republican debates. Talks about America being knocked down from recession. Says she will raise incomes for hard-working, middle class families. “If you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.” Excellent closing statement.
If this goes into a third hour, there should be riots.
Cooper finally asks an interesting question: Which political enemy are you most proud to have made?
Chafee: The coal lobby.
O’Malley: The NRA
Clinton: Lists a few names, then says, “Republicans.”
Sanders: The Pharmaceutical industry.
Webb: “I would say the enemy solider that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around anymore.”
What. The. F***?
Do you suppose that Jim Webb spends the entire commercial break jabbering to anyone who will listen? There’s no way he stays quiet for more than 20 seconds.
Don Lemon asks a question about how a Democratic President can get Republicans to compromise. No question must be left unasked!!!
Sanders basically says that Republicans only care about the top 1%.
Cooper leads us into another commercial, but not before hinting that closing statements are coming soon.
Juan Carlos Lopez asks Sanders about marijuana — and mumbles something about Sanders saying he smoked weed twice in his life — specifically about how he would vote on an upcoming legalization question in Nevada. Sanders says that he would probably vote in favor of legalization.
Lopez asks Clinton if she is ready to take a public position on recreational marijuana. Clinton declines.
Dana Bash takes four days to ask a question about maternity leave and Carly Fiorina.
Jar Jar interrupts Clinton so that she can phrase her question differently. Clinton responds by pounding her fist about the importance of protecting women against attacks on Planned Parenthood from Republicans. Draws big applause.
Sanders talks about how America is the only industrialized nation that does not provide maternity leave.
O’Malley says he expanded family leave in Maryland, and says he agrees with Sanders and Clinton. Group hug!
Back to a Facebook question — something about which candidate will best tackle environmental issues.
O’Malley says if elected, the first thing he will do in office is to sign an executive order that will “solve this problem.” Sounds pretty simple.
Jim Webb likes nuclear power. Says that China and India need to act to solve Climate Change. Why is he using a typical Republican line that serves as a dodge for acting on Climate Change in America?
All of the candidates are talking about how they will be aggressive on Climate Change. Clinton brings up, again, some story about her and President Obama chasing around Chinese delegates at a conference. No idea what she is talking about.
Annddd…we’re back. Can we just skip ahead to Closing Statements? Please?
Cooper says that we are in the final block of the debate. Don’t tease us, Anderson!
Cooper asks a convoluted question about Bush and Clinton and dynasties and something.
O’Malley says he has traveled the country, and he keeps hearing people talk about “new leadership” and “getting things done.” Says more about America needing new leaders.
Great response from Clinton: “I would not ask anyone to vote for me because of my last name.”
Sanders: Says he is the only Presidential candidate who is not a billionaire. Please tell us that Lincoln Chafee is not a billionaire.
In the history of television, it is quite possible that there has never been a more necessary commercial break.
Is there an over/under number for how many questions can be asked in one debate? Is Cooper contractually obligated to ask 300 different questions?
Jim Webb is now talking about how he used to be “Committee Counsel” or something in Congress. Can we all agree that Webb is no longer allowed to participate in these debates?
Cooper heads into a commercial break by saying that some of the candidates have tried marijuana, as has most of the country. Did that really just happen?
The moderators are trying to cram too many topics and questions into the debate. O’Malley had barely finished talking about an insurance plan he implemented in Maryland before Cooper asks Sanders a new question about problems with VA hospitals.
Chafee is now talking about tapping phones under the Fourth Amendment. We need a commercial break, stat!
Maybe Cooper is bored and thinks he needs to try to get the candidates to quarrel with each other, but he’s moving from question to question so quickly that it’s getting very difficult to even follow the topics.
“Governor O’Malley, Snowden…” That is a verbatim question from Cooper, who has stopped using complete sentences. Slow down already.
Juan Carlos Lopez makes his first appearance of the evening, asking Sanders about conflicting votes on immigration reform. The question is a bit too specific to understand clearly.
Sanders talks for awhile, then Lopez asks Clinton about making Obamacare available to immigrant families. Apparently O’Malley has a different policy stance on this issue, which the moderators seem to think is obvious to everyone else.
“I am for a generous, compassionate America that says we are all in this together.”
Webb is asked about whether immigrants should have access to Obamacare. He says some stuff for about 30 seconds.
Clinton jumps in and points out that Democrats on stage are talking very differently about immigrants compared to Republicans. Great, great point to make — and it saves us from listening to Webb drone on and on.
Dana Bash asks a question about whether taxpayers should pick up the tab for rich families to send their kids to college. This is a weird way to ask a question about making college more affordable.
Dana Bash kind of looks like Jar-Jar Binks, BTW.
Clinton talks about college affordability for a bit before Bash interrupts and tries to insist that she answer the second part of the original question, which nobody remembers anyway.
Sanders starts talking about “chained CPI” and other specific economic policies. Snore.
O’Malley takes the first real shot at another candidate when he says that Hillary is not a true supporter of Glass-Steagall.
Then Hillary says this: “I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.”
Sanders says it was wrong to ask the middle class to bail out Wall Street.
Whatever momentum had been generated by this discussion dies immediately when Webb starts talking. Since this debate is taking place in Las Vegas, you could call Webb “The Cooler.”
Now back to Chafee, who takes the boring baton from Webb and runs with it.
O’Malley brings up Glass-Steagall, and Cooper takes a moment to explain to the audience what we’re talking about here.
Sanders has another good line: “Fraud is a business model.” Then he talks in the third person. Awesome.
Clinton talks about her record going after big banks. She says bank executives should be in jail.
Sanders: “Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
Don Lemon now gets the stage, and there are technical difficulties in introducing a question from Facebook about whether or not “black lives matter.” This is obviously an important topic, but the question is awkward.
O’Malley has a good answer about how the response would be different if we were burying young white men at the same rates.
Clinton says that this may be the only bipartisan issue in the country right now — that we cannot keep putting people in prison at such a high rate. Clinton says “we need a new New Deal for people of color.”
Jim Webb starts talking, then wanders off into the woods. It would be difficult to be more boring than Webb at this point.
Sanders jumps in and talks about economic policies and raising wages.
Cooper lobs a horseshit question at Clinton about supporting the middle class when she is a part of the 1% economically. Cooper should be ashamed of himself for this question — every single candidate for President, on both sides of the aisle, is comfortably wealthy.
First question after the break is for Clinton, about her emails and her upcoming testimony in Congress. Hillary deals with the question well, sounding contrite and apologetic but also a bit fiesty when she says that the Congressional Committee she will testify in front of is little more than an arm of the Republican National Committee. You can thank Congressman Kevin McCarthy for providing the exit for Clinton here.
Sanders: “Let me say something that may not be great politics. The Secretary is right — people are tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Great, great line from Sanders, and he delivered it perfectly. “Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America!” The crowd erupts as Clinton and Sanders shake hands.
Cooper tries to get Chafee to attack Clinton over her emails, but Chafee won’t do much more than talk about “credibility” in general terms.
And then the biggest moment of the night thus far: Cooper asks Clinton if she would like to respond, and she says simply, “No.” The crowd erupts.
The first Democratic debate has thus far proven to be far less interesting to watch than the initial Republican debates, but there’s an interesting dynamic at play tonight; Democrats are considerably more poised and professional than the GOP candidates have shown.
We’re still talking about Syria? Can we move on, please?
Cooper asks each candidate about their opinion on what is the greatest threat to American security. All of the candidates have different answers, with Bernie deviating the most by naming “Climate Change” as the #1 problem.
Time for a commercial break, at last.
We’re really getting into the weeds on Russian foreign policy now. Across America, viewers are diving for the remote control.
Clinton is performing very well on questions about Libya. She has prepared herself well for this topic.
O’Malley talking about needing more human intelligence in the region. Jim Webb gets specific about Libya and military force. “Try to get to the Tripoli airport today — you can’t do it.” Good to know.
Cooper tries to get Webb to attack Sanders over prior votes on military force, but Webb won’t bite. All of the candidates appear to be standing firm against attempts by Cooper and the moderators to get them to attack each other. Great message discipline.
New topic: Russia and how the U.S. will deal with Vladimir Putin over Syria.
Clinton: Says it is not acceptable for Putin to be so aggressive in Syria.
Sanders: “You’re talking about a quagmire within a quagmire.” Sanders says that the Iraq War was the worst policy decision in the nation’s history.
CNN’s Dana Bash now gets to ask a question of Chafee, and tries to get Clinton to engage in a back-and-forth. Clinton says she debated Barack Obama 25 times on this issue, and Obama had enough faith in her to appoint her as Secretary of State. Draws big round of applause.
Bash asks Sanders under what circumstances he would use force if elected President. Talks about his statements from 2002 and how he predicted what would ultimately happen in Iraq. “When our country is threatened, or our allies are threatened, we need coalitions to come together. I do not support the United States…taking unilateral action.”
O’Malley calls Iraq one of the worst blunders in American history. Says no President should ever completely remove the military option from the table, but that it should be a last resort. Cooper tries to get O’Malley to criticize Clinton, but O’Malley won’t take the bait.
Clinton says she was very pleased when O’Malley endorsed her campaign for President in 2008. Says diplomacy is about “balancing the risk.”
Jim Webb gets a chance to talk, and starts getting into specifics about why Russia is now involved in Syria. Says China is really America’s greatest threat. Says to China, “You do not own the South China Sea!” What?
Cooper shifts the questions toward gun violence in general.
Bernie says that he has a D- rating from the NRA. Talks about the mental health problems in this country. Now Bernie is asking himself questions about gun sales in Vermont.
Cooper: “Secretary Clinton, is Sanders tough enough on guns?”
Clinton: No. It’s time our entire country stands up to the NRA. We’re going to guess that the NRA isn’t polling very well among Democratic voters right now.
Hillary starts to get excited and riled up about Bernie’s record on gun rights. Bernie says that there is a consensus in America to increase background checks, close gun show loopholes, etc.
O’Malley: “It’s fine to talk about all of these things…but I’ve actually done them.” Talks about passing comprehensive gun restrictions, and points out that there are two parents of a victim from the Aurora Theater shootings (his facts are off a bit here).
Back to Bernie, who is coming across much more moderate on gun issues than we would have guessed. O’Malley gets fired up about “leading with principles.” Bernie responds with a really stupid line: “You have not been in the United States Congress!”
Webb takes his turn on this issue and is a bit flustered. His brain probably needs more oxygen.
Chafee: Talks about how he has regularly voted in favor of gun safety, but blames the gun lobby for regularly preventing any changes.
Jim Webb’s head is turning purple. He needs to unbutton his collar or loosen his tie. We didn’t catch most of what Webb just said because it’s so hard to stop staring at his face.
First question for O’Malley is strangely specific, with Cooper trying to get to the topic of the Baltimore riots. O’Malley talks about attending funerals as Baltimore Mayor and the policies he implemented to help “save lives.” Pretty good answer.
Cooper follows up with a question about the number of arrests in Baltimore when O’Malley was mayor. This seems far too specific for this point in the debate.
Lincoln Chafee says he is a “block of granite” on policy issues, and has always been consistent even though he has changed from a Republican, to an Independent, to a Democrat.
Next question for Sanders: “Can a Socialist win a General Election?”
Bernie launches into his talking points about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in America. Says we can learn from countries such as Denmark and Norway when it comes to strengthening the middle class.
Bernie says that his campaign is bringing out new voters and new energy. Cooper tries to get him to answer a question about whether he considers himself a “Capitalist,” but Bernie won’t take the bait.
Hillary jumps in with a good line about how America doesn’t need to “save capitalism from itself.”
Back to Bernie: Everybody agrees that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. “You can have all the growth you want, but it doesn’t mean anything if all of the wealth is going to the top 1%”
So far, both Hillary and Bernie are sticking to their talking points.
First question from Cooper is for Clinton: “Will you say anything to get elected?”
Hillary is clearly ready for this question, and talks about how she regularly digests new information when it comes to policy questions. Says she doesn’t take a backseat to anyone when it comes to representing a Progressive agenda.
“Are you a Progressive or a Moderate,” asks Cooper.
“I’m a Progressive, but I’m a Progressive who wants to get things done.” Interesting line.
We’re back at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. Cooper goes over some of the ground rules, which are largely irrelevant in Presidential debates. Each candidate gets two minutes to introduce themselves.
Lincoln Chafee: “I’m the only one running for President who has been a mayor, a United States Senator, and a Governor.” He’s also the only candidate who was formerly elected as a Republican. “I have high ethical standards,” says Chafee. How exciting!
Jim Webb: Talks about the influence of money in politics. He’s wearing a white shirt with a collar that is way too tight — how can he breathe? We’re halfway through Webb’s introduction, and he’s already lost us. Webb might be prepared to put up a real fight for the most boring speaker on stage tonight.
Martin O’Malley: You can say one thing about O’Malley — he’s straight out of Hollywood casting as a Presidential candidate. The former Baltimore Mayor and Governor of Maryland certainly looks the part. Too bad he’s stuck with cliches like “the future is what we make of it.”
Bernie Sanders: Wearing a light blue shirt and striped blue tie, Bernie starts off with a good energy, leaning into the podium and jabbing the air with his hands to punctuate his points. Bernie’s challenge will be walking the line between “energetic” and “angry old man.”
Hillary Clinton: Wearing a blue jacket with a white blouse, Hillary looks refreshed and (relatively) relaxed. “At the center of my campaign is how we are going to raise wages.” This is a big point for Democrats in 2016, and it gives them a significant advantage over Republicans. Clinton also mentions the importance of paid family leave. Closes with a line about showing young women that they, too, can grow up to become President.
Annnddd…another commercial break.
Anderson Cooper is wearing some seriously-thick black frame glasses. And here come the candidates…
Lincoln Chafee strolls out first, followed by Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. O’Malley is the tallest of the candidates, for what it’s worth.
Sheryl Crow trots out to sing the national anthem.
Earlier tonight, the Chicago Cubs clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field for the first time in history. Could we be in store for something similarly unusual? CNN’s opening montage is focused on the Clinton-Sanders battle, probably because nobody knows anything about the other three candidates. We’re just hoping that the moderators and candidates will restrain themselves from going too heavy on the gambling metaphors.
Let’s do this thing. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer says the debate will get started after a commercial break…
Tonight’s debate is taking place at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino. CNN was holding a podium spot for Vice President Joe Biden just in case the former Senator decided to jump into the Democratic Primary tonight, but Biden is instead hosting a high school reunion and watching the debate from home (simultaneously, apparently).
All five Democratic candidates have promised to treat each other with “velvet gloves.” This makes sense, even if it sounds kind of gross, because the stakes tonight aren’t nearly as high as they are for the Republican debates. The Democrats will trot out five candidates tonight; Republicans might not whittle their field down to five for another six months. Anderson Cooper will moderate tonight’s debate, along with Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Juan Carlos Lopez from CNN en Español.
While there may be less drama tonight than in the first two Republican debates, there are still some interesting angles to watch. How will Hillary Clinton deal with Bernie Sanders? Will Sanders be able to create a memorable moment or two that can elevate his status as Clinton’s #1 challenger? Will anyone recognize Lincoln Chafee? Is it possible for Martin O’Malley to be any less visible? Is Jim Webb still running for President? (he doesn’t do much in the way of campaigning)