Just one day after the mini-Super Tuesday and a week before the all-decisive Florida primary, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held their latest one-on-one debate, in which they took turns thrashing each other’s record.
Once more, there was no clear winner after two hours of mostly testy exchanges on the Miami debate stage. That, of course, did not help Sanders, who remains far behind Clinton in the delegate count.
Yet, the upset victory of the socialist senator from Vermont in the Michigan primary had dominated the political conversation in America’s political chattering class on the day after, despite the fact that Clinton gained more delegates on Tuesday than Sanders.
Sanders seemed to be emboldened by his Michigan win, saying he pulled off what “some people considered one of the major political upsets in modern American history.”
He came out swinging hard against Clinton, being more aggressive and more comfortable on the stage than ever before.
As in previous debates, he attacked the former secretary of state on her Middle East policy, her Wall Street ties, and on immigration reform, a major issue in Florida.
But Clinton delivered a solid performance and came out as the better debater, yet again. And despite some missteps – she still doesn’t have a good answer on her Goldman Sachs speeches – she had some very strong moments that will likely endure more than anything else.
When asked about her poor honesty ratings and her not-so-great public image, she had this to say: “I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama.” She added: “This is not easy for me.”
“It was self-aware, and it turned a question about her not being honest into an answer in which she was uniquely candid”, commented the Washington Post in an instant analysis.
The bilingual debate was hosted by the Spanish-speaking network Univision and featured questions from the predominantly Latino audience.
This led to the most dramatic moment of the night when a woman from Guatemala whose family had been broken up via deportation asked Clinton – via an interpreter – for her support. Clinton, visibly touched, gave a heartfelt response and spoke slowly and passionately about the desire to stop deporting immigrants who entered the country illegally and to provide a path to citizenship.
“I will do everything I can to prevent other families from facing what you are facing,” Clinton told the woman “and I will absolutely protect your children, yourself and try to bring your family back together.”
The immigration issue dominated the first hour of the debate with both candidates jockeying for the top position of who was more committed to immigration reform.
Both promised they would not deport undocumented immigrants without criminal records and both promised not to deport children or immigrants who don’t have a criminal record.
“The essence of what we are trying to do is to unite families, not to divide families,” said Sanders.
In a thinly veiled reference to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump who has made a tough anti-immigration position a centerpiece of his campaign, Clinton said: “You don’t make America great again by getting rid of everything that made America great.”
Clinton then blasted Sanders for voting against a 2007 bipartisan immigration reform package. Sanders said he voted against the bill because of a provision for guest workers, a program he again called “akin to slavery.”
Sanders also used the immigration issue to blast Trump, who has called for deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
On social media, many observers noted that Clinton got the by far the tougher questions of the evening.
But the former First Lady held up well, given that her first three questions involved why she lost the Michigan primary, her emails and whether she’d drop out if she was indicted. (“Oh, for goodness — that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”)