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Clinton Goes On The Defensive In First Democratic Debate

Nicole Piper |
October 13, 2015 | 8:50 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter
The five Democratic presidential frontrunners went head to head for the first time on Tuesday at CNN and Facebook’s official debate. Anderson Cooper kept the candidates on schedule, with rapid-fire questions aimed at candidates’ past political records and their campaign promises. Frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton dominated much of the debate, targeting many of their arguments at one another’s distinct policy differences. The other three candidates, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb, danced around the frontrunners with selected jabs at their past policy decisions. 

Cooper jumped right into the issues surrounding frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign, asking how the former Secretary of State responded to accusations that she has been a political flip-flopper. Clinton found herself defending what Cooper called, “political expediency,” answering in her measured tone, “I’m a progressive.” 

Clinton seemed intent on keeping the audience focused on her political experience rather than the things that have dominated media coverage, including the investigation into her private email server and her shifting stance on several issues. The sole female Democratic nominee did not even mentioning her gender until an hour and a half into the debate, remarking that being the first female president would distinguish her from President Obama. Cooper immediately pressed her, “Would there be a policy difference?”

READ MORE: What To Expect From Tonight's Democratic Debate

Former Secretary Clinton seemed to be on the defense for most of the evening. “Everybody on this stage has changed a position or two,” she said an hour into the evening, raising both hands in the air in an exasperated gesture.

Despite these instances, Clinton drew what was arguably the loudest applause of the evening when she vehemently supported women’s rights regarding paid maternity leave and abortion. 

Throughout the evening Sen. Bernie Sanders stood at attention directly to the right of Clinton, leaning casually on his podium, loudly and passionately defending his views. 

While Clinton and Sanders dominated the debate, the other candidates largely flew under the radar, perhaps the most marked contrast between Tuesday's debate and the second GOP debate, which hosted 11 candidates. In the Democratic event, former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley stood at Clinton’s left and calmly directed subtle digs at the former Secretary of State throughout the evening, all but edging out Sen. Chafee and hinting at his potential as a contender as the race progresses.   

Despite her opponents’ best efforts, Clinton came into the debate ready to put up a fight. O’Malley pointed out his vote against the Iraq War, calling into question Clinton’s controversial vote in favor of the war, a vote she has since expressed regret for.

“I was very pleased when Gov. O’Malley endorsed me for president in 2008,” Clinton said. Clinton then referenced what is perhaps the strongest weapon in her political arsenal: her role as Secretary of State under President Obama.

Clinton recalled “being on a debate stage about 25 times with Sen. Barack Obama,” after which he asked her to be Secretary of State. Throughout the debate she referenced meetings with the president and conversations by the president. When Cooper asked her about intervention in Syria, she responded, “I know that in the administration this is being hotly debated.” 

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton On SNL: What The Polls (And Republicans) Are Saying

For all Clinton’s efforts to keep the public focused on her political record, black clouds on her campaign continued to come up from the moderator and from her opponents. When she calmly tried to redirect the conversation from the investigation into her use of a private email server, Sanders took over.

“People are tired of hearing about your damn emails,” said Sanders, in one of the most memorable quotes from the evening.  

At the end of the night, the Democratic debate ultimately became a duel between Clinton and Sanders, two frontrunners with starkly different political backgrounds. While Clinton may not have come out a clear frontrunner, she fielded attacks from her opponents firmly and passionately, at the very least keeping her campaign afloat until the next hurdle.  

Contact Staff Reporter Nicole Piper here



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