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Clinton comes out swinging in first Democratic debate

© Joe Raedle, Getty Images North America/ AFP | Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (R) and Bernie Sanders (L)

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2015-10-15

US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton exuded confidence at the first Democratic debate on Tuesday, gaining unexpected support from her main rival, Bernie Sanders, who said voters were “sick of hearing about your damn emails”.

Clinton faced off against her main obstacle to becoming presidential nominee, along with three other Democratic candidates, none of whom are considered a serious threat, in the party's first debate of the 2016 campaign.

Clinton set the pace from the start, tackling her rivals on gun reform and US foreign policy while rejecting further questioning on the email scandal that has so far overshadowed her campaign.

While Clinton and Sanders dominated the debate with a lively back-and-forth that often seemed to leave the other three candidates frustrated, Sanders offered a leg up to Clinton when he lambasted ongoing inquiries into Clinton’s private email server, saying “enough with the emails”.

While not a serious threat to Clinton, Sanders has been seen as nudging the former secretary of state to the left ahead of the November 2016 election. Asked whether she was a moderate or a progressive, Clinton said: “I am a progressive, but I am a progressive that likes to get things done.”

While amicable and often supportive of each other’s proposals, Clinton and Sanders clashed on themes that will shape the party’s future fight against the Republican party.

On the long-running Syrian conflict that the Obama administration has struggled to tackle, Clinton called for “more of a leadership role” in confronting Russia’s increasing dominance in the country, and proposed examining no-fly zones.

Sanders shot back, arguing that no-fly zones require policing – which he said would mean further involvement in “a quagmire within a quagmire”.

Sanders went on to describe the Iraq war, which Clinton voted in favour of, as “the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country”, and ruled out sending US troops to the Middle East in the fight against extremist terror groups in the region.

“War should be the last resort,” Sanders said.

‘This is not Denmark’

A running theme of the debate was wealth inequality, which Sanders has focused his campaign on.

Defending his “democratic socialist” proposals, Sanders said that if American voters understood what the term meant – that wealth was more fairly distributed and workers were protected by the state – then they would vote for him.

But Clinton said it would be a “big mistake” for the US to turn its back on its capitalist history. “This is not Denmark,” Clinton said, “We’re the United States of America”. Sanders had earlier highlighted Denmark as an example of a fair society.


The pair also clashed on gun reform, with Clinton arguing that Sanders’ policies would fail to curb increasing gun attacks across the country. Asked whether he was tough enough on the subject, she replied simply: “No, not at all.”

Sanders in turn defended his record and argued for better mental health services and a more robust system to guarantee sufficient background checks for those seeking to buy a firearm.

Clinton was forced to defend shifting positions on international trade and same-sex marriage, which critics say expose her as spineless. “Like most human beings, I do absorb new information, I do look at what’s happening in the world,” Clinton said.

Speaking of last week’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, she said she had hoped the agreement would be "the gold standard," but that she had been disappointed.

Clinton and Sanders were joined at the debate by former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and former Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat from Rhode Island.

Whether Vice President Joe Biden will run remains a looming question for the Democrats, who have been largely united in their support for Clinton. The Republicans, on the other hand, have failed to rally behind one leader, with billionaire Donald Trump leading the race but dividing the party.

Date created : 2015-10-14

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