US Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had a fiery first meeting following the New Hampshire primary.
“Once I’m in The White House,” she said at one point.
“Secretary Clinton, you are not in the White House yet,” came the retort, followed by jeers from the audience.
And so it continued…
Historically, Clinton has excelled at the debate format. She was looking to gain back lost ground after a discouraging 20-point defeat in New Hampshire.
As the campaign moves to racially diverse states, both used the Milwaukee debate to seek and strengthen support from minority populations.
Clinton sought to build on the strong support she has amassed among minority voters. She vowed to “tackle the barriers standing in the way of too many Americans right now,” adding:
“African-Americans who face discrimination in the job market, education, housing, and the criminal justice system. Hardworking immigrant families living in fear, who should be brought out of the shadows so they and their children can have a better future.”
Her opponent blasted the US legal system which, he said was unfairly stacked towards the rich and powerful.
Sanders argued that race relations would be better under an administration run by him, than under current President Barack Obama – the nation’s first black leader.
He sought to build on his popularity among young people, liberals and some working-class white voters:
“What we will do is say, instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires, we are going to create millions of jobs for low-income kids so they’re not hanging out on street corners.”
Towing the political line
Sanders, whose focus was on introducing himself to new voters in this the sixth Democratic debate, didn’t greatly expand on his political message. He concentrated on the economy, campaign finance and health care.
“I have fought my entire life to make sure that healthcare is a right for all people. We’re not going to dismantle everything. In my view healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege and I will fight for that,” he said.
On the offensive
Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned about the stamina of Clinton’s candidacy. However, there are also concerns about Sanders’ electability, should he become the Democratic presidential nominee in July.
Both, then, were aiming to prove themselves to both the people and the party.
They entered into a heated debate about foreign policy. Clinton drew attention to her opponent’s minimal experience in the area, with the disparaging comment: “It’s a big, complicated world out there.”
She has long been seeking to consolidate the argument that she has what it takes to become commander-in-chief.
Sanders got in his own jibe when Clinton alluded to his criticism of fellow Democrat, Obama.
“The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president, I expect from Republicans,” said Clinton. “I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination.”
He told her it was a “low blow,” pointing out that he didn’t need to agree with Obama on everything in the Senate, but adding that the president is a friend.
What does the electorate think?
At the New Hampshire primary, Clinton garnered little support in key areas of the Democratic electorate. She lost to Sanders on a majority of the women who voted, as well as in the youth vote, many of whom said they distrusted her campaign trail.
On the other side, Sanders is seen by some Democrats as too liberal. His proposed tax increases are considered too harmful to win a general election, some voters say.
A first, whoever wins
He was questioned on whether he thinks that by going up against Clinton he would be potentially blocking a milestone for women. A Clinton victory in the party and later in the general election, would see the first female president in The White House.
Sanders, who would be the first Jewish president if elected, responded:
“I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical importance, as well.”
The next big event in the Democratic calendar will be the Nevada caucus on February 20.