On February 11th as temperatures hovered in the teens, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Clinton-Sanders debate featured fiery exchanges between both candidates. Hundreds of press from around the U.S. converged to capture and report on the debate. The event was sponsored by PBS with support from Facebook, and Milwaukee Public Radio and Television. The moderators for the debate were Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill, co-anchors from the PBS program Newshour.
In the spin room, across the street from the debate, a slew of large screen TV’s displayed the event live as news reporters for TV, radio, and the press feverishly captured each exchange between Sanders
and Clinton. During the debate, a group of protesters yelling BlackLivesMatter and Fightfor$15 minimum wage pushed into the press area. Reporters rushed to capture the moment while police and security quickly rushed to disperse the crowd.
The debate covered a wide range of subjects including campaign finance, Wall Street, foreign policy, education, Planned Parenthood, and a host of social issues. The exchanges between the candidates were congenial at first, but quickly turned to jabs, punches and counter punches intermixed with memorable on-liners.
One memorable exchange centered on Sander’s criticism of Hillary’s connection with large super PAC’s. Clinton started by saying, “I’m very proud of the fact that we have more than 750 thousand donors, and the vast majority of them are giving small contributions. I think it’s great that Senator Sanders, President Obama and I have more donors than any three people who have every run….That’s the way it should be, and I’m going to continue to reach out to thank all my online contributors for everything they are doing for me.”
Saunders countered saying, “Let’s not insult the intelligence of the American people. People aren’t dumb. Why in God’s name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it; they want to throw money around.”
When Clinton was asked by co-moderator, Glen Ifill the price tag of her governmental proposals on health care, student debt and other agendas, Clinton responded, “My price tag is about $100 billion a year….I believe I can get the money that I need by taxing the wealthy, by closing loopholes, the things that we are way overdue for doing. And I think once I’m in the White House we will have enough political capital to be able to do that.”
Sanders quickly responded, “Well, Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet. And let us be clear that every proposal that I have introduced has been paid for.”
Another touch point centered on foreign policy. Hillary stressed her experience in foreign affairs pointing out, “As we all remember, Senator Obama, when he ran against me, was against the war in Iraq. And yet when he won, he turned to me, trusting my judgment, my experience, to become secretary of state.”
Sanders responded, “Where the secretary and I have a very profound difference, in the last debate — and I believe in her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.” As the audience applauded Sanders added, “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”
In all, Clinton and Sanders debated on equal footing and effectively counter punched each other throughout the debate. Later in the spin room the activity was high as key officials promoted their candidates. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, complemented both candidates but highlighted Clinton as the best choice.
Across the room, Jeff Weaver, Democratic political adviser and campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign explained Sanders was the best choice.
In the center of the room, Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez pushed for Clinton. Along a row of bright lights and live TV cameras, Wisconsin Senator, Tammy Baldwin conducted a live interview with Chris Mathews of MSNBC and also endorsed Clinton. The floor of the spin room seemed to be leaning towards Hillary, however Sanders’ debate performance in front of the press area suggested he had made a strong impact particularly with his quick retorts, and “pointed one-liners.” Wisconsin’s Democratic primary isn’t until April 5th. There is still a lot of time for events to unfold for both candidates. The polls in South Carolina give Hillary the edge. In Nevada, it’s a Clinton-Sanders tie. Stay tuned.