Although there were no breakout moments in last week’s Democratic presidential debate, there was palpable relief that five politicians, each with long public-service experience, could remain poised adults and talk about issues for a greater-than-two-hour period.
They explored important topics, including gun safety, financial reform and national security, and gave voters insight into some of their differences. This early in the race, we couldn’t really have hoped for more.
Some observations: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for all of his economic ideas and his passionate critique of socioeconomic inequality, is weak on foreign policy, has a confusing position on guns and appears to have difficulty giving concise answers in a debate format.
Hillary Clinton emerged by most accounts as the evening’s winner and will be tough to beat. Her performance was impressive. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state displayed a fluency in domestic and foreign policy issues and a remarkable level of comfort in the debate format. This confirmed pre-debate reports that Clinton was preparing carefully for the event; and that work paid off. But even the most thorough preparation couldn’t have predicted Sanders’ life-line response to one of the lingering challenges to Clinton’s candidacy, when in the night’s most-popular answer he said voters didn’t care about her “damn emails.”
Finally, while our region’s native sons, former Virginia senator Jim Webb and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, did not appear to distinguish themselves from the pack, at least one group of debate watchers reached a different conclusion. NPR reported that the nationally ranked debate team at the College of William and Mary in Virginia unanimously voted O’Malley the winner. They concluded that, as a virtual unknown on the national platform, he probably changed the most minds and stuck to the issues the most.
For those counting, Israel only came up once in the debate — when Webb, in the context of denouncing the Iran nuclear deal, spoke of “our greatest ally Israel.” We hope the candidates will be encouraged to discuss the topics of Israel and Middle East peace at upcoming debates.
And then there was the elephant outside the room. What about Vice President Joe Biden? According to some, Clinton’s success made it harder for Biden to enter the race as the warm, spontaneous un-Hillary. Maybe not. Indeed, there are those who maintain that Biden still has plenty of time to decide and that he could even wait until after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary to make his move. We’re not sure about the timing question. But we do know that while Biden’s entry into the race would give voters another seasoned option, if he really doesn’t want to run, he shouldn’t.