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O'Malley, Sanders Rise, Clinton Falls In Second Debate

Max Schwartz |
November 15, 2015 | 9:34 a.m. PST

Associate News Editor

Creative Commons
Creative Commons
The liberal candidate and the candidate who was supposed to be the liberal candidate came out swinging during the second Democratic Debate on Saturday night. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is an independent in the Senate, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley both launched continuous offensive attacks against the front runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Did you expect anything different?

With only three candidates in the field, each was going to get a lot of air time. That ultimately helped O’Malley, because more air time means less time competing and more time going after the common enemy. The biggest precursor to this debate, though, was that Sanders had increased his attacks on Clinton since the first Democratic debate last month, especially in the weeks leading up to the second showdown.

Clinton came into this debate after improving in the polls, and taking or coming near the lead in early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. That is the reason Sanders changed tactics; also, throw in that he did not take this approach during the first debate, and that he had to hurt her credibility on issues where he is the shining star, such as college affordability, healthcare and campaign finance reform.

SEE ALSO: Second Democratic Debate: Foreign Threats And Domestic Issues

Sanders was able to take on Clinton punch for punch. He explained why his college plan - which would make college tuition free for everybody - is better than Clinton’s, whose plan would not fund everybody’s education because she does not believe tax payers should pay for wealthy people’s children to go to college.

The senator continued to advocate for a single payer healthcare system, while the former chief diplomat reiterated her desire “to proudly support the Affordable Care Act and improve it.” Sanders also explained his position to expand medicare.

Clinton did not have a real come back for either of these issues. She had to fend off a question about 1994 comments about the single payer system. She admits the change never happened. She did not explain how she would get the government to stop pharmaceutical companies from price gouging, but she does want to reform the prescription system in the country. She also did not explain her college plan in any greater detail, but neither did Sanders. All he said was spending on college education would be an “investment,” and the states that do not chip in their part would face great costs associated with not doing so.

The former secretary beat Sanders on the gun issue, though. That was not unexpected, but what may have been surprising to some was that Sanders said he “would be willing” to take another look at the gun immunity bill he was against.

Sanders’ tax plan got roars, especially when he said, “Wall Street should bail out the middle class.” His economic points are a major center piece of his campaign, and it showed on Saturday night.

What hurt Sanders was when he said climate change, and not terrorism, is the biggest issue. He may be right for the longterm, but that is probably not what people want to hear right after the deadliest terrorist attack in the Western world since 9/11. He has never been one to say something because it is what the people want him to say, though. He did say, however, “international terrorism is a major issue.”

Clinton hurt herself when she injected 9/11 in her Wall Street reform answer, and she did not have a good response as to why she did it. She made an argument for her plan, and she tried to explain how it is more comprehensive than Sanders’. The senator immediately attacked her on that point because she takes money from Wall St. while he does not. Her best answer to a question about how people could trust her to regulate the street was that hedge fund leaders are running ads against her. 

O’Malley came into the debate with a built in advantage: He was the only one on the stage who was the chief executive of a state. That meant he was the only one to be able to say he actually did or instituted any of the topics discussed, which made him a stronger debater than some may have expected.

SEE ALSO: Clinton Goes On The Defensive In First Democratic Debate

On the issue of minimum wage, he and Sanders both support $15 per hour, while Clinton supports $12. The former governor said he would “not be taking [his] orders from Wall Street.” He was able to say that Maryland was the first state to put a living wage into place, and that he has seen an increase in the minimum lead to jobs because have more to spend. He had to fend off a question over why he only started with $10.10 per hour.

O’Malley also wants “debt-free college,” and he cited his time as Maryland’s governor once again by bragging that he was the only one of the three who did not increase the cost of college. He cited that when he was governor, public tuition did not increase. He said he was able to pay for this by increasing the sales tax. He does not believe there should be “a much lower tax rate,” and eliminating it would fund what needs to be funded.

On guns, he said the immunity bill needs to be repealed, and he said Clinton has had three different positions on the bill. Guns and policing are an iffy issue for him due to the Freddi Gray incident, but he said he created “a civilian review board,” in Maryland, and that “black lives matter.”

O’Malley said a he is lacking in experience with crises presidents deal with, but he said he learned “threats changed,” and how to form cabinets.

The first debate was a toss up between Clinton and Sanders for the sole reason that Clinton did not decline. Sanders, however, probably had the better the debate and proportionally gave more specifics than Clinton. 

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton On SNL: What The Polls (And Republicans) Are Saying

O’Malley may have been the strongest candidate in the second debate because of his built in advantage, and his record. What voters may not be ready to forget is how his policies led to the incident that cost Freddie Gray his life. This debate is unlikely to boost the former governor’s lagging poll numbers because of how low he's been polling and, based on the social media data, how few people watched. Some may believe he carries the stigma of being a Southern Democrat, which could also hurt during this time of extreme polarization.

Sanders was probably the net winner because of his answers and his standing entering the debate. He explained what he wanted to do and why, and he got some of the loudest cheers when doing so. He was also able to counteract any attacks from Clinton and O'Malley, which proves he can defend his position and that he sticks up for what he believes in. His policies are also more liberal than the frontrunner’s, which was more than obvious from the Iowa debate stage. He just needs to find a way to turn the energy and attendance numbers his rallies and speeches bring into votes.

Clinton failed to do her job during the second debate: Prevent attacks from hurting. She had a difficult time defending her - conservative compared to Sanders’ - polices, and she did not really provide specifics. She gave more details during the first debate. It hurt her showing that Sanders was able to provide more details and better explanations. When she did provide details, they sometimes lacked substance. 

If Sanders can capitalize on this momentum, he may be able to take back and increase leads in early voting states. The question will be what momentum will he actually get, because did the young people - his key demographic - actually watch on a Saturday night? Only time will tell.

Reach Associate News Editor Max Schwartz here; follow him on Twitter here.



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