Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dominated the first Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. The political heavyweight and her populist upstart challenger were joined by candidates Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley.
We take a deeper look at the debate and its potential impact on the race with Jason DeSanto, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University law school and a specialist in political communications.
During a phone call on Wednesday with “Chicago Tonight,” DeSanto said that Hillary Clinton offered her strongest rationale yet for her candidacy and brought her individual answers back to her core values.
“You can be a good debater and win the skirmishes,” DeSanto said. “To be a great debater, it’s not just that you’re good at hand-to-hand combat, but that you’re able to tell an overarching story, particularly in contrast to someone else’s. She did that throughout the evening, so it was a good night for Hillary.”
According to DeSanto, if you liked Bernie Sanders before the debate, you probably still like him, but DeSanto said that the Vermont Senator didn’t do much to expand his appeal with Democrats. When Sanders was pressed by moderator Anderson Cooper and by Clinton on his gun control record, DeSanto said that Sanders looked very uncomfortable.
“He [Sanders] had a rough first half of the debate, but he really picked it up in the second half,” DeSanto explained. “In the first half, he did not particularly handle well his answer on guns, not simply what he was saying, but also the way he appeared when Clinton came after him. There’s always an unstated conversation going on between the candidates and the audience regarding whether they give off the demeanor of someone presidential. They have to appear unruffled at some level. He looked a little ruffled.”
DeSanto thinks Sanders’ best answer of the night was his remark that the public is sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails,” which he followed up with a clear articulation of the challenges he sees middle- and lower-income Americans facing that compel him to run for president.
As for which of the other three candidates—Chafee, O’Malley, and Webb—had a good night, DeSanto doesn’t think any of the men took full advantage of the opportunity presented by the debate stage, but that O’Malley made the greatest strides in getting to Hillary Clinton’s left.
“There’s always an unstated conversation going on between the candidates and the audience regarding whether they give off the demeanor of someone presidential. They have to appear unruffled at some level.”
“[O’Malley] can’t get any oxygen between Sanders’ rise in the Democratic primary and Trump’s rise in the Republican primary,” DeSanto said. “There’s not a lot of room left in terms of coverage. He’s also not particularly an energetic, live-wire personality. When you’re fighting for free media, it’s a challenge with those factors in play.”
Moderated by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Tuesday’s debate was the highest-rated Democratic debate to date. According to CNN, a record 15.3 million viewers tuned in to Tuesday’s debate, breaking the previous record of 10.7 million viewers set in 2008 for ABC’s 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14, at Drake University in Iowa and will air on CBS.
Watch CNN's video recap of Tuesday evening's Democratic debate below:
On Sept. 15, DeSanto joined "Chicago Tonight" to discuss the second GOP debate. Revisit our discussion.