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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

First Democratic Presidential Debate Provides Stark Contrast with GOP Field

The horse race analysts got plenty to talk about from the first Democratic presidential debate and they will be spinning it in all directions for the next few of days. For now, take a step back for a moment and try to think about how the more attentive swing voters perceived the Democratic debate in comparison to the Republicans versions.
What was missing last night was any trace of the bullying, name-calling, internecine acrimony, snarling ridicule, bigotry, misogyny, rudeness and general chaos, which characterized the GOP presidential campaign. What alert viewers saw last night was a debate which was remarkable for its civility, sobriety and even cordiality.
Sure the candidates cast a few zingers toward their opponents during the evening, but all of it was in the ballpark of grown-ups respectfully airing their differences, while affirming their common ground. The false equivalency journalists will have a tough time of trying to link the Democratic and Republican debates as similar.
And all of that is just the tone part.
In terms of substance, credit the Democrats with the mettle to address critical issues all but ignored by the Republicans in their debates. In their Huffpo article “9 Issues Democrats Just Debated That Have Been Almost Completely Ignored By Republicans,” Nick Wing and Ruby Mellen note that Democrats discussed in significant detail racial injustice, campaign finance reform, domestic surveillance, Wall St. reform, income inequality, college affordability and diplomacy. Try to find a salient quote about any of those topics from a Republican presidential candidate in their two debates. Tammy Luhby reports at CNN Money that “Democrats said ‘middle class’ 11 times; the Republicans just three.” Luhby adds, “the Democrats mentioned “income inequality” six times, while the Republicans never uttered it.”
As for the “who won” discussion, so far NYT and WaPo pundits give the nod to Clinton for her polished presentation and well-crafted answers. But Sanders held his own and projected an image of a candidate with genuine principles and real concern for struggling Americans. Gov. O’Malley’s closing statement was startlingly good — where has this guy been hiding?
As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Vice President Biden will join the fray. The strong performances of Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley don’t leave a lot of daylight for Biden to squeeze in, although he also would bring debating skills and gravitas to the Democratic campaign, which the current stable of Republican candidates lack.
There can’t be much doubt, however, that the Democratic Party had a very good night and will buzz well at water coolers across the nation today. What swing voters who watched the Democratic debate last night saw was a party with three strong, credible and exceptionally well-informed leaders, any two of whom would provide an impressive presidential ticket — especially compared to the “leaders” of today’s GOP.

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