Who Won the Democratic Debate?

February 5, 2016, 5:45 AM UTC

Hillary Clinton got angry at Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday night, and it worked.

During the MSNBC debate in New Hampshire, Clinton went for Democratic voters’ heads by pitching herself as a pragmatic progressive and their hearts by highlighting social issues, but she beat Sanders by explaining why his criticisms have gotten on her nerves.

“Time and time again, by innuendo and insinuation, there is an attack that he is putting forth,” Clinton said, referring to Sanders’ references to her raising money from Wall Street and other interests, which, she argues, aims to imply the contributions bought favorable treatment.

“Enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly,” Clinton told Sanders. “You will not find I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.”

“It is time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks,” Clinton said, as Sanders shook his his head.

Clinton was not shrill, but pointed, cogent, and even passionate. She was angry. And that was relatable.

The exchange may have helped Clinton move past her flubbed answer at a Tuesday town hall event in New Hampshire, when she said she accepted a $675,000 speaking fee from Goldman Sachs because “that’s what they offered.”

“I may not have done the job I should explaining my record,” Clinton said Thursday, noting she is among many former Cabinet officials who gave paid speeches after leaving office. She said that as a New York Senator, she warned Wall Street banks against practices that contributed to the 2008 financial collapse.

Clinton, who trails Sanders by 20 points in a NBC News/Wall Street/Marist poll released Thursday, has little hope of catching the Vermont senator before the state’s primary on Tuesday, but she can claim momentum if she significantly closes that gap in Sanders’ neighboring state.

Clinton holds a sizable lead in national polls, and her large advantage among African-American voters in key states like South Carolina looks likely to thwart Sanders’ challenge.

At the first opportunity on Thursday, Clinton stated her intent to take on the “continuing challenge of racism.” She mentioned fighting sexism and protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans from discrimination, and continued to hit Sanders on his past votes against background checks for firearm purchases and on other gun-related issues.

“If we’re going to get into labels,” Clinton said, responding to Sanders’ questioning her status as a progressive, “I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady bill five times.”

With the exception of the death penalty, which Clinton supports and Sanders opposes, Clinton used social issues to distinguish herself as the more reliable progressive than Sanders, whose focus on economic issues has left him less identified with issues like civil rights.

“We have income inequality; we have other forms of inequality,” Clinton said in a shot at Sanders’ focus on fiscal matters.

Positioned to Sanders right on viewers television screens, Clinton’s main attack came as she repeatedly called his policy proposals unrealistic and implied that the senator is unelectable.

As the Clinton campaign blasted an email titled: “Bernie’s Unachievable Revolution,” the candidate said the “numbers just don’t add for what Senator Sanders has been proposing.”

She said that Sanders’ call for free college ignores expert opinion that the approach would not rein in education costs, which the government would bear.

Clinton argued Sanders’ plan for a single-payer federal healthcare system would mean scraping the gains of the Affordable Care Act, endangering the health insurance of millions of American who gained it under the act. “Republicans want to repeal healthcare. I want to improve it,” Clinton said. “Senator Sanders wants us to start all over again.”

Sanders, who struggled with a hoarse voice during the debate, was left explaining that he would leave Obamacare in place while pursuing a single payer system. He also said he helped write the Affordable Care Act as member of the Senate committee overseeing healthcare. He was forced to say that he does consider President Obama a progressive.

Sanders called Clinton a member of the Democratic establishment. Clinton said it is “amusing that Sen. Sanders calls me, a woman running to be the first female president, the establishment.”

Many of Clinton’s shots at Sanders sounded prepared, but they still found their mark.

Despite the back and forth over progressive credentials, Clinton casting herself as a pragmatic alternative to Sanders has the virtue of leaving her positioned for a general election fight. Clinton pitched herself as a trusted entity located between Sanders, who urges “a political revolution,” and Republicans racing each other to the far right.

“I’m asking you to bring both your heart and your head to vote with you on Tuesday,” Clinton said, addressing New Hampshire voters, in her concluding remarks.

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