Democratic Debate Candidate Ratings

Graphic by Jacob Rozowsky

By Mehmet Zorluoglu
Opinions Contributor

With the Iowa caucuses finally in the rearview mirror, the primary season for both parties is finally underway. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barely edged out Senator Bernie Sanders with the narrowest margin in the history of the Democratic Iowa Caucuses. Clinton was awarded 23 pledged delegates (delegates that are awarded based on the result in each state), and Sanders 21.

Some hailed it as a victory for the Sanders campaign, noting how far his campaign has come since announcing his candidacy. Meanwhile, others called it a big day for the Clinton campaign, citing the demographics of Iowa, which many consider very favorable to Sanders.

However, all eyes have already shifted to New Hampshire, where both parties will have their first primary of this election cycle. Clinton is behind Sanders in every poll of New Hampshire voters, so she is desperate to try and win over some of the Sanders supporters.

The debate last Thursday, Feb. 4 was the last chance for these two candidates to make their case to an wide television audience before the New Hampshire primary, and I will rate their performance based on how much I think it will help or hurt them looking forward to the party nomination.

Hillary Clinton: B

Clinton seems to have accepted defeat in New Hampshire. One reason I say that is, as Nate Silver has pointed out in a FiveThirtyEight blog, the timing of her visit to Flint, Michigan ( Feb. 7, two days before New Hampshire votes) seems a bit questionable. Silver writes, “ . . . the timing is unusual — you don’t usually take off on the Sunday before the New Hampshire primary — and it seems like a way for Clinton to lower the media’s expectations for how well she’ll do on Tuesday.”

This seems an ingenious idea, as her perceived expectations (particularly from the media) will be tempered the less time she spends in New Hampshire immediately before the primary. If this holds true, even a pretty substantial loss might not be the end of the world, and pulling within single digits of Sanders might even be lauded as a success.

During the debate, Clinton did pretty well, highlighting her extensive experience with foreign affairs, which is considered by many as a subject that Sanders still remains relatively weak on. Additionally, when asked about her progressive credentials, she questioned Sanders’ votes on various pieces of gun legislation, another point that she is keen on differentiating herself from the Senator. She gets a “B” is because I thought she made a few key mistakes. First was her decision to accuse the Sanders campaign of an “artful smear” of her own.

Sanders has been adamant in refusing to outright attack Clinton, and he reacted with a wince and a sound that suggested that her claim was unfounded. The crowd followed with a subdued jeer.

When asked if she would release transcripts of her paid speeches she said, “I’ll look into it,” which can be considered a, “No, until further notice.” I do not see much room for improvement for Clinton in the polls. I believe that most people know everything that they are going to know about her, but that is not the case for Sanders. In my view, this provides Sanders with more room to grow in the polls than Clinton.

Noteworthy moment: “I’m a progressive who gets things done. Cherry-picking a quote here or there doesn’t change my record of having fought for racial justice, having fought for kids’ rights, having fought the kind of inequities that fueled my interest in service in the first place.”

Bernie Sanders: B+

The agreement between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns to hold more debates is a very big deal going forward for Bernie Sanders. One of the main advantages he has over Clinton coming out of Iowa is that he does not have nearly the same name recognition as her. Therefore, more debates and more exposure to the masses should not hurt him, but rather will be an opportunity for him to appeal to even more people.

Sanders performed quite well in the debate, contrasting himself with Clinton on a number of issues, including Wall Street reform, campaign finance, and the vote regarding the Iraq War, while pointing out that, according to Sanders, it is no secret that Clinton is an embodiment of the establishment.

He is becoming a more polished debater as the campaign carries on, but still avoids attacking Clinton outright. He has embraced a kind of, “tell it how it is and let the people do with the information as they will” approach to the debates, and it is hard to argue with the results thus far. He has come a long way since announcing his candidacy, but he will need a pretty substantial win in New Hampshire to send a message that this will be long, grueling contest, and not just a blip on Clinton’s road to the nomination.

Noteworthy moment:
“When you ran against Sen. Obama, you called him naive — naive — because he thought it was a good idea to talk to our enemies. I think those are exactly the people you have to talk to and you have to negotiate with.”

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Mehmet Zorluoglu is a senior at Newton South. He used to be quite the introvert and would be wary of the most menial interactions. However, he enjoys most sports (both playing and watching), hanging out with friends, and is interested in politics/current events. If you are passionate about a topic he is always open for a discussion or debate.