Who won Tuesday night’s debate — Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? The answer, it seems, is both. And Democrats.
Both Clinton, the presumed nominee for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and Sanders, the oft-gruff insurgent aiming to usher in a political revolution, performed ably. There were moments of despair for both, too.
Sanders is, by far, the more consistent messenger. He simply hammered home his message of income inequality again and again and again. He looks and sounds authentic to Democratic voters, which is why he has maintained solid support in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sanders delivered more authenticity during the first Democratic debate Tuesday, but this time he had a much broader audience to speak to — more than 15 million viewers.
Perhaps his strongest moment of the night came when he defended Clinton and the ongoing questions regarding her use of a private email account and server during her tenure as secretary of state.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right,” Sanders roared. “And that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”
His words drew a heart-felt “thank you” from Clinton, who reached out to shake hands with the self-described democratic socialist.
While that may have been a shining moment, and was indeed loved by the cheering audience, Clinton found Sanders’ soft spot — gun policy. She told moderator Anderson Cooper that Sanders is not tough enough on gun control.
Sanders noted his D- rating from the National Rifle Association, but Clinton drew blood when she highlighted Sanders’ vote to protect gun manufacturers from any liability when killings occur.
“I voted against it. I was in the Senate at the same time. It wasn’t that complicated to me,” she said. “It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America. Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers.”
Sanders argued that his votes on gun policies were balanced because Vermont is a rural state with a strong hunting culture. But Sanders is now running for president, and his efforts to balance the sportsmen culture in the Green Mountain state could prove to be a liability among Democratic primary voters as mass shootings continue to mount.
Martin O’Malley, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, piled on. He noted Maryland was able to pass new gun control measures “and still respect the hunting traditions of people who live in our rural areas.”
“We did it by leading with principle, not by pandering to the NRA and backing down to the NRA,” O’Malley said.
Despite the stumble on guns, and a weaker-than-expected performance on foreign policy questions, Sanders was a clear winner to most on social media.
Forbes reported that Sanders tallied 35,163 new Twitter followers Tuesday night. That’s more than all four other candidates combined at 23,219. Clinton, according to Forbes, was a distant second with 13,252 new followers.
Sanders’ campaign also reported that it raised $1.3 million in the four hours following the debate. Sanders, who nearly matched Clinton in fundraising between July and October, has proven that he can compete with Clinton financially by utilizing small donors. The surge in fundraising following the debate shows he should be able to continue gathering enough funds to keep his campaign firing on all cylinders.
The debate was also in stark contrast to the first two Republican debates. The five candidates on stage Tuesday stuck to debating issues and avoided petty attacks and insults that were pervasive in the first two GOP debates.