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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Clinton-Sanders Contest Could Go Epic

Last night’s debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders suggests that the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination could go the distance. No matter who wins the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, the readiness of both candidates for the long haul is striking. I would be surprised if either candidate put it away before the summer.
A couple of interesting observations from Alan Rapport’s New York Times round up, “Who Won the Debate? Critics Are as Split as the Candidates“:

“Powerful ending by Sanders. There’s an undeniable decency to him that you don’t often see at this level of American politics.” — Ezra Klein, founder of Vox.com
“Crucial distinction between Bernie and Hillary on Flint: She suggests solutions, he demands punishments.” — Charlotte Alter, writer for Time.
“Both made strong attacks, and both defended effectively. This was the most intense debate of the entire cycle, possibly foreshadowing an epic, long-running series of face-to-face contests alternating with primaries and caucuses well into the spring.” —Mark Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics

Sanders scored on his emphasis on getting corporate money out of politics, regulating Wall Street and calling for fair trade policies to protect jobs. Clinton showed impressive acumen on foreign policy, was confident and eloquent on a range of issues and zinged Sanders for his five votes against the Brady bill.
Recent polling indicates that Sanders holds a strong lead in New Hampshire. But, as he noted during the debate, the early primary states don’t contribute a lot of delegates to the number needed to clinch the nomination, though they could be pivotal in a close race.
The early primary wins do impact fund-raising in a favorable way. Phillip Bump observes at The Washington Post, that following the debate, “The fourth-most-Googled question about Bernie Sanders is how can I give him money…Getting a voter to try and figure out how to give is a dream come true for any campaign. Having it trend on Google? Insane.”
The Politico Caucus, “a panel of top operatives and activists in the early nominating states,” gave Sanders the edge in the debate. But 65 percent of them said that Sanders would “lose in a landslide “to the Republican nominee.
Who “won” the debate is certainly less important than winning the election next week. But rest assured that this contest will intensify in the months ahead, regardless. By affirming their mutual respect for each other in every debate and their willingness to support their Democratic adversary against any Republican, both candidates can serve the cause of party unity, even as they define their differences.

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