The wait is finally over and the roller coaster ride has begun! The first Democratic presidential debate has taken place and before they dismantle the stage and remove the podium, here’s how graded the five candidates on the pressing issues they were questioned on.

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator Clinton — and Democratic frontrunner had the most to gain and the most to lose in this first Democratic debate. From her email scandal, to Benghazi, to leveling the playing field for America’s working families, Hilary handled it all. Here is how she stacked up on the issues:

Foreign Policy: (GRADE B) There is no denying the fact that Hillary Clinton is a complete hawk when it comes to foreign policy. Hillary has been a major supporter of foreign wars and the utilization of force to achieve peace. In this debate she was no different. During an exchange about Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression, she said the United States must stand up to Putin’s “bullying” and must take “more of a leadership position” to help end the bloody civil war in Syria. While this statement doesn’t specifically advocate the use of force, it implies that the use of military force will be on the table for a President Clinton. This is troubling at a time when most Americans want to see an end to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Education: (GRADE B) While there were very few questions about K-12 education during the debate, on higher education and the cost of college Hillary laid out a couple of concrete steps that, if implemented, would be beneficial to students. These steps included: refinancing student loan debt to lower interest rates, forcing students to work 10 hours a week to help pay for their tuition, and working with colleges and universities to decrease the skyrocketing cost of college. But, with all that being said, what our country need more than ever are bold transformative ideas to turn the tide on the student loan debt crisis.

Criminal Justice/#BlackLivesMatter: (GRADE B+): “Now is the time for a new New Deal for communities of color.” And while this quote and some of her policy solutions have merit, after the debate many are still wondering whether Hillary truly understands the impetus behind #BlackLivesMatter.

Economy: (Grade B): Hillary came out the gate during the debate talking about the importance of leveling the playing field for working families. Sadly, actions speak a little louder than words. Here flip-flop on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that will harm America’s working families by outsourcing their jobs, makes one question whether or not she is willing to stand-up for working families when its unpopular.

Overall (Grade B+): If you listened to the pundits at all last night, you would have heard that Hilary was a clear winner. Don’t believe the hype. Hilary won this debate by not losing. Her performance was great and many of answers were on point. She did what she need to do, but didn’t go above and beyond the mark to lock-up this nomination.

More from Hillary Clinton Can’t End Mass Incarceration Without Reducing Arrests

Bernie Sanders

Vermont’s Senior Senator and devoted “democratic socialist” has taken the progressive movement and the American people by storm.  His ability to galvanize the left and those who feel Washington doesn’t understand their issues has been quite remarkable for me to watch. From being a little known senator from Burlington, Vermont to filling large arenas whereever he goes, the American people are really feeling the Bern.  Last night served as Senator Sanders first ever nationally televised debate, here is how he stacked up:

Foreign Policy: (Grade C): On the economy Bernie gets it. On education Bernie gets it. On social justice, Bernie gets it. When it comes to foreign policy, this debate showed that the Vermont Senator might need to back to the drawing board. Bernie needs to pick up the pace and come up with some meaningful solution to ISIS, Russian aggression, and Syria.

Education: (Grade A): Senator Sanders take on higher education was exceptional. His ideas around free college, while hard to imagine in our current political climate, are exactly what progressives and working families are looking for. With skyrocketing college tuition and crippling student loan debt, Americans are looking for bold solutions and this is one of them.

Criminal Justice/#BlackLivesMatter: (Grade A): “We need to combat institutional racism and fix our broken criminal justice system.” Bernie’s evolution on #BlackLivesMatter has been quite remarkable to watch. Over the past three months, he went from being a clueless candidate to someone who gets it and is offering some real solutions to fix our problems. How did he do it? He listened. After all, when Sterling Arthur Williams of Des Moines, Iowa asked the question directly, “do Black lives matter or do all lives matter,” he put it point blank without hesitation: “Black lives matter.”

Economy: (Grade A): In almost every answer Bernie hammered his main campaign plank, income inequality. In doing so, Bernie was able to make a clear contrast between himself and the other four candidates. Bernie gets it. It is morally wrong for the 1% own the world while the rest of us suffer.

Overall Performance: (Grade B+): Bernie Sander after last night has solidified his base, and many would consider that a win. He also did a great job of dismissing Hilary’s drip-drip-drip email scandal by saying, “the American people sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” He was the most authentic and seemed to speak directly to the concerns facing working families. Foreign policy is the only thing to be concerned about with him.

More from Read our interview with Bernie Sanders

Lincoln Chaffee

The former Republican Senator and Independent Rhode Island Governor surprised many Democratic Party faithful when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. And while his campaign has been in lockstep with the larger progressive agenda, his campaign has not gained the traction necessary to be a player in the fight for the Democratic nomination. This debate gave him a chance talk to a larger audience and it was sad to watch.

Overall Performance: (Grade F): Chaffee’s debate performance was dismal at best. At certain points during the debate we were all left wondering whether Chaffee was even there. He referred to himself as a block of granite at one point. He even defended his vote to repealing Glass-Steagall by saying he was new to the Senate and was unsure how to vote. Not Presidential material.

Martin O’Malley

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland has been struggling to get attention for his campaign. In a recent poll of likely Maryland primary voters, Governor O’Malley came in fourth place, demonstrating that he had everything to gain from an exceptional debate performance. An epic performance could have put him on track for a meteoric rise, similar to Carly Fiorina or Dr. Ben Carson:

Foreign Policy: (Grade B): While foreign policy was the focus of the debate, candidate Martin O’Malley made it clear that he would oppose a U.S.-enforced no fly zone Syria, breaking to the left of Hilary Clinton. This was a stand out moment for the former Maryland Governor.

Education: (Grade C): O’Malley on higher education touted his record as Governor of Maryland, but that just wasn’t good enough. Yes, Maryland has a thriving higher education system and yes the state offers in-state tuition to dreamers. But, touting your record isn’t enough. The American people couldn’t care less about your record, what they want to know is what you do to fix the $1.2 trillion student loan debt balance that is looming over our nation.

Criminal Justice/#BlackLivesMatter: (Grade C): Yikes! While O’Malley has clearly studied his Black lives matter talking points, he completely mishandled the question about the policies he implemented while Mayor of Baltimore. Yes, it is true that during his time as Mayor the crime rate decreased, but the rate of false arrests, police brutality, and criminalization of black men in the city increased drastically. Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police is directly connected to the zero-tolerance policy put in place by Martin O’Malley.

Economy (Grade A): O’Malley‘s push to reinstate Glass-Steagall – a financial regulation that separated commercial and investment banking, which was repealed by President Clinton – is exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to fixing the too-big fail attitude that is pervasive on Wall Street.

Overall Performance (Grade B-) O’Malley had a decent night overall. Sadly, decent isn’t good enough to beat Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders when you are this far behind in the polls.

Jim Webb: The former U.S. Senator from the commonwealth of Virginia has been a declared candidate for months, but yet the mainstream media hasn’t given him the time of day. During last night’s debate he had a chance to get his ideas out to the American people and it was uninspiring.

Foreign Policy:  (Grade A): This was the one and only outstanding topic for Senator Webb. He clearly has a great handle what our nation’s foreign policy goals should be and how to utilize our armed forces strategically to make those goals a reality.

Overall Performance: (Grade F): Besides foreign policy, Jim Webb seemed to be out of touch and unprepared for the debate. My suggestion: he would make a great Defense Secretary, but should exit stage left immediately.


The Democratic Party had a great showing. The debate was substantive, solution driven, and gave voters a chance to see what the party has to offer the American people. This is in stark contrast to the previous two GOP debates, which features a lack of civility, attacks against women, attacks against Muslims, and even attacks against the debate moderator.

My report card is showing one thing right now. This race is still wide open for Vice President Joe Biden. Many pundits have indicated that there is no space for him after last night’s debate, but they are way off. Biden’s appeal to African-Americans, rust-belt voters, and those that have been left out of our political process is nothing to dismiss. Not mention, that all the candidates in the debate embraced President Barack Obama and by extension, the legacy of Vice President Joe Biden. While Hillary is clearly the Democratic party’s frontrunner, last night’s debate shows that Bernie Sanders is a force to reckoned with. All that can be said is that things are about to get interesting.

Richard Fowler’s YouTube and radio show can be heard in more than 9.1 million homes. He frequently appears on Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN. Follow him on Twitter @Richardafowler