Last night, America’s Democratic candidates took the stage for their first nationally televised debate. The debate, hosted by CNN in Las Vegas, offered an opportunity for all candidates to stand out, increase their numbers in the polls and voice their views on each of the major issues presented.
Hillary Clinton, former first lady, senator of New York and secretary of state, came into the debate with the strongest approval rating of all Democratic candidates, at 43.3 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was in second with 25.1 percent. The remaining candidates, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, had a combined 1.6 percent before the debate, according to Real Clear Politics.
Current Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently not campaigning, occupies third place in the polls at 17 percent, according to the website.
Topics of the debate ranged from incarceration rates and college affordability to international affairs and gun laws. Candidates did not diverge greatly on many key issues, according to political analyst and USF professor of political science Susan MacManus.
Several comments served to distinguish each candidate throughout the night. O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and former mayor of Baltimore, said he has a plan to make the U.S. powered solely by clean energy by 2050, while Sanders said the greatest threat to America currently is climate change.
“I will tell you this, (climate change) is a moral issue,” Sanders said during the debate.
Webb, whom MacManus said was more conservative than other candidates on the stage, did stand out when the conversation turned to gun control. Webb said he supports 2nd Amendment rights to own weapons, but also said the U.S. has not done well in pre-screening gun owners. Web has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, the nation’s main gun lobby.
“There are people in high levels in this government who have bodyguards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average American does not have it and deserves the right to be able to protect their family,” Webb said.
Sanders has a mixed record on gun control. During the debate, Clinton said that Sanders opposed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (the “Brady Bill”), which called for mandatory background checks in order to purchase a gun, as well as a five-day waiting period.
Sanders said he would most likely vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. Clinton, on the other hand, said more information is necessary before taking the next steps. Clinton also said the number of incarcerations is too high for non-violent, drug-related offenses.
MacManus said the biggest surprise of the debate was Clinton’s support for the Obama administration. She said this made sense in retrospect, considering it would help Clinton get the support she needs during the primary.
“Well, there’s a lot that I would like to do to build on the successes of President Obama, but also, as I’m laying out, to go beyond,” Clinton said.
Sanders also showed support for Clinton in saying that less attention should be paid to her email scandal. MacManus said that Sanders did this not just for Clinton, but to allow more focus on other issues for all candidates.
MacManus said debate moderator Anderson Cooper was more combative than necessary, although the topics chosen for questions were strong. According to the political analyst, the two strongest candidates after the debate were Clinton and Sanders, which she said many expected.