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Eye On Candidates
January 26, 2016

What We Learned From Last Night’s Democratic Forum

The three major Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, participated in a forum in Des Moines, Iowa, last night. It was not a debate, with no opportunity for back-and-forth responses or head-to-head questioning, but the event was still informative. Here are a few of the key takeaways from Glenn Thrush of Politico:

5 takeaways from the Democratic forum

  1. Clinton still lacks a coherent answer to the email questions.

So far, the only effective answer to the email questions that have dogged Clinton was delivered by her rival Bernie Sanders, when he told Clinton in the first Democratic debate he was sick and tired of hearing about her “damn emails.”

Clinton demonstrated Monday that she still doesn’t have a polished answer for questions on the topic, which may be off limits for Sanders but is certain to become a topic in the general election should she beat Sanders….

  1. Clinton all-but-claimed an Obama endorsement.

Having gone to great lengths to staple herself to a Barack Obama during the Democratic primary (while suggesting that Sanders is out of step with the White House), Clinton was eager to remind the audience of the president’s praise for her in an interview with POLITICO that appeared Monday morning.

Alluding to his remarks about her readiness for office and her translation of values into governance – not to mention his description of her as “really idealistic and progressive” – Clinton sought to highlight their relationship, as well as her ability to build on his legacy. ...

  1. Sanders knows what hurts him in the Democratic primary.

Judging by the force of his answers, Sanders has zeroed in on two issues that could prove to be his downfall in the Democratic primary: gun control and his dismissal of Planned Parenthood as part of the “establishment.”

Sanders — whose campaign has started circulating mailers in Iowa telling voters that he stands up to the National Rifle Association — was ready for a question about gun control, a topic that’s driven his disagreements with Clinton, and on which she has leaned on hard in the run-up to the caucuses. He recited parts of his voting record on guns while deftly reminding the audience that in 2008 Clinton was to Obama’s right on gun control, despite her attempts to hug him close now.

But it was on Planned Parenthood that he made his most impassioned plea, after Democrats have lambasted him for labeling the organization — as well as NARAL and the Human Rights Campaign — as the “establishment” following their endorsements of Clinton.

“That’s not quite accurate, I have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record,” Sanders insisted, explaining that his “establishment” comment was about their endorsement policies….

Other than a single mention of O’Malley, in an explanation of the forum’s format and how it allowed him to have “free rein to outline the next generation’s problems,” O’Malley didn’t merit any attention from Thrush, which suggests he did not have the sort of break-out moment he needed to boost his chances of even a respectable third-place showing in next Monday evening’s Iowa caucuses.

CNN also had five takeaways from the forum, including the following:

Sanders on the attack

Sanders offered plenty of kind words for Clinton, telling the audience he likes and respects her. Then, barely a minute later, he unloaded a withering attack on the former secretary of state.

He rebutted Clinton's argument that her broad experience makes her qualified for the presidency in a way a one-note candidate like Sanders never could be, leaning again and again on one word: Iraq….

Sanders turned months' worth of his best Clinton punches into a rapid-fire combination, hitting her on Wall Street, free trade, the Keystone pipeline, Social Security and gun control….

“On day one, I said the Keystone Pipeline is a dumb idea,” Sanders said, later adding, “Why did it take Hillary Clinton such a long time before she came into opposition to the Keystone Pipeline?”

On Wall Street: “I led the effort against Wall Street deregulation. See where Hillary Clinton was on this issue.”

On Social Security: “Ask Hillary Clinton if she's prepared to lift the cap on taxable income.”

Despite Sanders’ repeated critiques of Clinton, however, there seems to be little coverage or analysis suggesting that last night’s contained any big moments likely to dramatically change anything. Still, it did give Sanders an opportunity to repeat some of his attacks on Clinton, which may in the end help tip some noticeable number of voters from undecided to his camp. And in a close contest, like Iowa is shaping up to be, that could be the difference.