Flint, Michigan Democratic Debate: Candidate Rankings

Graphic by Jacob Rozowsky

By Mehmet Zorluoglu
Staff Columnist

Because of the increasing media exposure of the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan over the past couple months, CNN and the Democratic Party decided to hold a debate in the city.

With Bernie Sanders having carried three out of the four states that voted over this past weekend, his campaign seems to have gained back some of the momentum he had after coming close in Iowa and winning big in New Hampshire. However, Clinton still leads in national polls as well as those of Michigan, so she is still unquestionably the frontrunner.

I will be rating the performance of each candidate in this past Sunday’s debate, and how I believe their tactics will help or harm their respective campaigns going forward.

Bernie Sanders: A-

This was certainly Sanders’ best debate performance thus far. For the first time, we saw the senator emboldened by a new string of victories and feeling secure enough for him to go on the offensive.

Having said that, Sanders started the debate off extremely strong, making his key points clearly, but also pointing out some of the discrepancies between himself and Clinton. Sanders came out weeks ago suggesting that Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan should resign after his handling of the Flint Water Crisis and did so again early on in the debate. Clinton, for the first time, stated her support for that notion.

What changed? Perhaps the that fact that Michigan will be voting on March 8.

Sanders also made a key point about Clinton’s Wall Street speeches, for which she has been compensated upwards of $200,000 per speech. He called on her to release the transcripts of the speeches if she is indeed so confident that she can take the banks on, as she says in her own words. As expected, Clinton shifted and said that she should not be expected to release those transcripts if nobody else in the field of candidates does, claiming it would be unfair to have one set of rules for her and another for the rest.

However, this statement is as disingenuous as they come, as Sanders has released all of his zero paid speeches, and he is the one running against her in the Democratic primary. Saying she should be held to the same standards as the Republicans while running for the Democratic nomination makes no sense, and Sanders did well to question her on that issue.

Additionally, on the issue of fracking and whether or not he supports it, Sanders answered with a concise and pointed statement while Clinton went around in circles trying to give herself some wiggle room in order to be able to say that she did not flip flop on the issue during a potential general election.

Despite these initial successes, Sanders had two significant mistakes. One was the ending of his response to a question about what racial blind spot he has (which was also asked of Clinton). Near the end of his answer, he said, “So to answer your question, I would say, and I think it’s similar to what the secretary said, when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.”

Many pundits and voters alike went on record to say that this statement made it sound like Sanders was not comfortable with the racial issues in our country. I would certainly call that claim a bit of a stretch, but his answer certainly made it seem like no, or at least very few, white people live in ghettos or are poor in general, which is not true.

Another point in which he was not as strong as he could have been was regarding the Auto Industry Bailout, which of course held great significance in this debate, considering Flint’s proximity to Detroit. Clinton claimed that Sanders was against the bailout, which is simply false, but Sanders did not adequately explain that he was for the Auto Bailout but against the Wall Street Bailout. This could have put off some voters, as I admit that even I might have thought that he was actually against the Auto Bailout had I not done my research.

Noteworthy Moment: “Well, let me make a couple of responses. Let me pick up on the last point the secretary made. You know, we are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health. And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to invest in that.”

Hillary Clinton: B+

Clinton did not disappoint during this debate, but this is to be expected. She is an expert debater, perhaps as polished as they come. She continues to hit on the point that she sees herself as being on the far left of the political spectrum when compared to Sanders on any issue regarding guns. The truth of that claim could be disputed, but regardless, it has undoubtedly been a crucial part of her campaign strategy. As I mentioned, she also said that she was for the Auto Bailout while Sanders wasn’t, which was not correct.

Another one of her campaign strategies seems to be to cozy up to Obama and his broad range of supporters, the same supporters that chose him over Clinton in 2008. This is especially true whenever she is asked a question that seems to leave her without a reasonable explanation, such as on the issue of the transcripts to her speeches. She almost always answers this “allegation” of sorts with the fact that Obama also took millions from Wall Street during his campaigns, which is factual, and that he has still passed some of the toughest bills in regulating Wall Street– a statement that is highly debatable.

Another example of this is when Sanders called for socialized medicine to get all Americans a health insurance plan, Clinton once again invoked Obama’s name, saying, “We are on the path to doing that [having everyone covered]. Thanks to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, we have 90% coverage. We are lacking 10%. We are going to stay on that and get to 100%– universal coverage.”

What I have said so far might be painting the image of a Clinton who struggled during the debate, but that is far from what happened. While she went over her allotted time on more than a handful of occasions, she was cool, calm, and for the most part short and to the point with her answers.

I doubt many Clinton supporters would be swayed from voting for her because of this debate, however, many undecided voters and Independents who were watching may be feeling the bern after watching this unusually contentious debate.

Notable Moment: After Sanders talked about how he views the issue of gun manufacturing, Clinton replied with, “That is like the NRA position. No.”

This, despite the fact that according to an article written by Paul Blumenthal on the Huffington Post, Hillary Clinton’s campaign “held a fundraiser in Washington on March 21 that featured as one of its hosts Jeff Forbes, who until the end of last year worked as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.”

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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.