Ahead of next week’s critical New York primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came together for the first time in more than a month to debate issues including corporate influence, gun control, and energy. The Brooklyn debate was testier than previous affairs, as both candidates continued the race’s recent trend of more personal and nasty attacks.
The first quarter of the debate was dedicated almost entirely to the role of big business in the American economy, including, but not limited to, the financial sector. Sanders maintained his support for the striking Verizon (VZ) workers, and brushed aside the comments from executives of both Verizon and General Electric (GE).
Clinton hit Sanders hard, though, bringing up his recent interview with the New York Daily News, widely panned by pundits. “Talk about judgment. Talk about the kinds of problems he had answering questions about his core issue, breaking up the banks,” Clinton said.
Sanders struck back, though, again hitting Clinton for giving speeches to financial firms like Goldman Sachs (GS). This led to a back-and-forth exchange where Sen. Sanders called on Secretary Clinton to release the transcripts of her speeches and Secretary Clinton calling on him to release his tax returns. (Sanders did promise to release his 2014 returns on Friday and joked that they’ll be pretty boring.)
All in all, the business discussion went mostly according to the script we’ve come to expect—Sanders rails against the power and influence of large firms, and accuses Clinton of being in their pockets. Clinton responds that she would not be beholden to companies even if they donate to her.
After the candidates talked about business, other topics included gun violence, energy policy, and foreign policy.
Clinton did well in the debate on guns, making Sanders look at times like he was flip flopping. In an issue that many Americans care about, given the many mass shootings that have occurred in the past few years, Clinton was able to appeal to voters who want to see more serious gun control legislation.
They also debated foreign policy issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Libyan incursion that occurred while Clinton was Secretary of State. Again, in a contest where a lot of progressives will be voting, Sanders was able to stake out left wing positions and make Clinton look like a hawk.
Given all that, who won the debate?
Sanders scored a few more rhetorical points than Clinton, frequently drawing rousing applause from his supporters at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. He was able to keep the discussion largely on the topics he likes to focus on, and he made a number of points that will resonate with progressives, not a small voting group in New York. But it seems unlikely that Sanders was able to change enough minds that he will be able to overcome what is still a big poll lead for Clinton. And if he doesn’t win New York, his path to the nomination becomes that much more difficult.
Overall, the debate was probably, like many of these have been, a draw, with both candidates winning the issues where they frequently shine. This late in the contest, that draw is a win for Clinton.