Column: Did Hillary Clinton really win the Democratic debate?

In this Oct. 13, 2015, photo, Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. (David Becker/AP)

The major media outlets declared Hillary Clinton the winner of Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, but online polls and focus groups all strongly favored Bernie Sanders. So, did Clinton win?

Well, yes and no. But mostly yes. Let’s get right to it, then.

There is definitely potential for ambiguity, especially if people didn’t watch the program. Many people are citing CNN’s proclamation of Clinton’s “bringing it” and “winning” and phrases of that nature as a de facto argument of her affiliation with Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, and their uncanny ability to pawn off their agenda as something objective and certain.

I think it’s fairly indisputable at this point that cable news is not entirely steeped in fact, and Time Warner has unsurprisingly donated $501,831 to Hillary Clinton’s political endeavors since 1989, according to opensecrets.org. There’s a clear affiliation there.

Also conflicting is the nature of the online poll. In those terms, Sanders won emphatically. In CNN’s own Facebook poll asking who won the debate, Sanders won with an astronomical 82 percent, compared to Clinton’s 11 percent. There is a clear reason behind his winning there: Sanders is enveloping support from progressive young voters, who politically mobilize primarily on the Internet.

Moreover, his position in the Democratic race as the closest opposition to the behemoth Clinton campaign probably inspired voters of all supportive demographics to voice their opinion and rally strongly behind him, in keeping with his grassroots, populist campaign. There’s probably a certain complacence from Clinton voters in formats like this, but they matter much more to the constituents of candidates who aren’t the frontrunner.

So, where did Sanders go wrong and Clinton right? One of the hot-button issues both her and Martin O’Malley pressed Sanders on was gun control. As a vessel of the state of Vermont, Sanders has unwaveringly stuck to a pro-gun agenda during his tenure as senator. Clinton said Sanders was not tough enough overall on gun control laws, citing his voting for a bill that provided immunity for gun manufacturers when their instruments were used in shootings and the victims’ families wanted to sue.

Something else used against Sanders was his repeatedly voting against the Brady Bill in the 90s, which sought federally mandated background checks and a five-day waiting period for gun purchases. Whether gun control works or not, Sanders cannot afford to take a lackadaisical stance in the race because of the seeming omnipresence of mass shootings and the media coverage thereof. It’s a particularly sensitive time for the issue right now, and second place to a Clinton may require a little bit of capitulation.

An obvious reason for Clinton’s success, as competitor Jim Webb was happy to repeatedly say, is the lack of time allocated to everyone else. As expected, Clinton and Sanders spoke longest, at thirty minutes and 27 minutes, respectively. For everyone else, it was drastically less, in the double digits for disparity: O’Malley went for 16, Webb for 14 and Lincoln Chafee for nine. I don’t think I need to explain how it’s easier to say what you want if you have enough time to say it.

Even so, Clinton’s competitors didn’t appropriately use their finite time to their advantage. When questioned about his voting for the repeal of Glass-Steagal Act (which Hillary’s husband signed into law), a bill that separated the institutions of commercial and investment banking, Chafee said he had just joined the Senate and his father had recently died. Sympathetic as that may make me, you have a responsibility as a powerful legislator to make rational decisions, especially ones with the popular narrative of having caused the recession in 2008.

Moreover, Webb spent too much time complaining about the lack of time he had to speak. Surely, you can’t be so ignorant of the political dynamics that you believe you would get to pontificate as often as Clinton. Tragic as it is, it’s not an even playing field, and squabbling with moderator Anderson Cooper to speak more isn’t going to give the public a lasting impression of you.

Sanders aside, the debates were supposed to give these minor candidates a chance to shine, and they certainly blew it for themselves. Clinton didn’t have to try all that hard to be better than most of her competition.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.