Highlights from the First Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

The Democratic presidential primary debate held on October 13th — the first of its kind this campaign season, in contrast to the two already hosted by Republicans — was anticipated by many voters, and heavily advertised by CNN, as a chance to see two leading candidates (and three others…) go “head to head,” and confront each other directly on their political and policy differences.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton share a light moment at the First Democratic Presidential Debate on October 13, 2015

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton share a light moment at the First Democratic Presidential Debate on October 13, 2015

The debate took place at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was hosted by Anderson Cooper with additional questions by other CNN anchors. Nevada is considered an important political indicator for both parties, due to its heavily Latino population along with a diverse demographic make-up and mixed political leanings. Missed the debate? We’ve compiled some of the best moments below:

Hillary Catches Bernie Sanders on Guns 

If Bernie Sanders has any weaknesses against his small pocket of the Democratic base — mostly young, white, economically progressive people — it’s his voting record on gun control. Sanders, a senator from rural Vermont, voted against the Brady Act, which required background checks before gun purchases, among other things. Hillary Clinton was given an early opportunity to corner Sanders on his history with gun legislation, and while Sanders countered with a sound platform, he did so at the cost of confronting his past:

Meaningful Foreign Policy Discussion

When Hillary Clinton said she’d like to “take more of a leadership position” in Syria as a way to counter Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the region, it opened the door for anyone who wanted to — everyone — to pry apart the statement to try to pin Clinton as a hawk, and to remind the audience, again, of her vote in support of the Iraq War. But Clinton has been there before, and the former Secretary of State fueled an active discussion that touched on real foreign policy differences between all of the candidates: on ground troops, no fly zones, and even the legitimacy of military force itself. It was worth re-hashing one vote 15 years ago.

“The American People Are Sick and Tired of Hearing About Your Damn Emails!” 

“Revelations” — courtesy of a mistakenly candid statement by Rep. Kevin McCarthy — that Benghazi committee members are concerned with Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers gave Bernie Sanders an opportunity to score some Democratic solidarity points: in declaring his impatience with the entirety of the email scandal, he highlighted his own, albeit curated, image, as a politician who doesn’t like playing politics.

“Black Lives Matter” 

If there has been any social movement as revelatory within the Democratic Party as the Tea Party was for Republicans, it is the Black Lives Matter movement. Democrats across the national spectrum — from tough on crime governors to liberal senators — are being forced to confront and explain their own records and statements on criminal justice reform, unwarranted police violence, the private prison industry, education, and much more. One simple question taken from a submitted video (“Do Black lives matter? Or do all lives matter?”) got everyone on the record. While it may seem like a silly rhetorical distinction, the question has been used as a litmus test for candidates: are you willing to be explicitly focused on racial equity and civil rights? Potential voters got their answers.

Martin O’Malley on Glass-Steagall 

Early primary debates are not known for their policy wonkishness, so it was refreshing when Martin O’Malley reminded viewers of a single, though incredibly large and complex, measure called the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited commercial banks from engaging in overly speculative investments. It’s easy enough to vilify Wall Street, as Bernie Sanders did, or tout your experience in dealing with large investment banks, as Hillary Clinton did. But in financial political discourse, specifics rule.

Hillary Clinton on Paid Family Leave

When asked about Carly Fiorina’s opposition to paid family leave — the Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of HP said it would slow new hiring — Hillary Clinton talked about California’s own success with the progressive policy, using the state both as an example of a successful democratic experiment, and as an example of Fiorina’s own ultra-conservative stance on the issue (HP currently offers paid family leave). It gave Hillary a chance to be Hillary, backing a policy she has spent her entire career advocating for.