With Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign heating up, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton campaign perhaps reaching a plateau, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley attempting to get the attention his campaign has missed, the candidates opened up during a two-hour prime time CNN broadcast, giving Democratic voters a chance to get their final questions answered prior to heading to the ballot box or their states’ caucus.
Because this wasn’t a debate, viewers had the chance to hear directly from the candidates on issues including climate change, gun violence, xenophobia, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the widening income inequality gap that has plagued our nation for the past couple decades.
Bernie Sanders Gets Personal?
“We need a political revolution,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. Now a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sanders took the town hall as an opportunity to amplify his message of leveling the playing field for working and middle-class families. But, he also took a little time out for the voters to get to know him a little better.
The 74-year-old senator talked about his elementary school championship basketball team, his rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the astonishment his mother and father would have felt seeing him as a senator and a top-tier candidate for president of the United States.
Throughout the town hall, Sanders doubled down on his marquee issues including free college, Medicare for all, regulating Wall Street, and raising the minimum wage. Beyond wrapping himself in his ideological mission, he also took some time out to smile, joke, and look a lot more likable to Democratic primary voters.
Sanders also called out Hillary for many missteps during her quite lengthy career in Washington. He blasted her for arriving late in opposition to the Keystone Pipeline and in her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal—an Obama-backed trade deal that critics say would gut American manufacturing and cause unemployment due to outsourcing.
“Why did it take Hillary Clinton such a long time?” said Sanders.
He also took issue with Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war and her husband’s push to repeal Glass-Steagall—a financial regulation that separated commercial and investment banking.
Sanders was a clear standout, but it would have been great to see Sen. Sanders push further on issues of mass incarceration, institutional racism, and question the rationale of the Clinton Crime Bill—a bill passed in 1994 that included the federal “three strikes” provision, mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes.
Does Hillary Want a Third Obama Term?
“Build on the progress we’ve made under President Obama,” said Clinton. During her time in the hot seat, Clinton made it clear that she would continue many of the progressive gains made under Obama including the Affordable Care Act, pushing for immigration reform, and fighting for adequate funding for public education.
You won’t hear this from any GOP candidates, but Obama remains quite popular among Democratic primary voters. So Hillary’s strategy of attaching herself to the President might not be the worst thing in the world. And let’s be real, the Clinton campaign truly believes that she will breeze through this primary and the general election.
“You have to have somebody who is a proven, proven fighter, someone who has taken them on and won,” said Clinton to the audience. She said this while talking about health care, where she, unfortunately, slammed Sanders’ push for Medicare for all.
Another stand out moment for Clinton came when she was asked about the enthusiasm gap being faced by her campaign. “I don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you,” said Des Moines local Taylor Gipple, who described himself as leaning towards Sanders. “In fact, what I have heard from quite a few people my age is that they think you are dishonest.”
“I have been around a long time, and people have thrown all kinds of things at me, and I can’t keep up with it,” said Hillary in response to Gipple. “If you are new to politics and it’s the first time you’ve really paid attention, you go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all of this. I have been on the frontline of change and politics since I was your age,” she added.
This awkward encounter gave Hillary a chance to highlight her experience and prove to millennials that she is worthy of their vote. But, to some this answer didn’t go far enough.
It would have been amazing to hear Hillary explain what her plan was on student debt or ensuring that Black lives matter. But those answers still remain missing from the Democratic frontrunner.
O’Malley run for Cabinet Secretary?
The Martin O’Malley campaign has not caught fire, and it probably won’t before the Iowa Caucus. Throughout his interview with Cuomo, it was clear that O’Malley was making a last-ditch plea to get primary and caucus voters to join him. But, those pleas have clearly fallen on deaf ears.
His campaign has clearly turned into a movement to get him a possible cabinet position in a Clinton or Sanders Administration because his Presidential bid looks bleak at best.
Last night’s town hall didn’t teach us anything new, but it did give each candidate a chance to crystallize their message to Iowa and New Hampshire voters. With the Iowa caucus just around the corner, voters will have a hard decision to make. Will they choose a candidate that speaks to the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the American people or will they select one with experience and depth?