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Nate Silver 11:43 PM Another Debate In The Books

Our staff scored tonight’s debate as a tie, with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders getting a B+ grade. (Grades are meant to reflect how much we think the candidates helped themselves toward winning the campaign.)

CANDIDATE AVERAGE GRADE HIGH GRADE LOW GRADE
Hillary Clinton B+ A B
Bernie Sanders B+ A B-

Personally, I was slightly on the lower end of the group consensus, giving both candidates a B. As I’ve said after almost every Democratic debate, I’m still looking for signs that Sanders can expand his coalition beyond his predominantly white, liberal base. And I didn’t see a lot of those; instead, Sanders was too willing to indulge in questions about who’s the bigger progressive, when almost half of Democratic primary voters identify as moderate or conservative.

Clinton, meanwhile, spent a lot of time in the first half of the debate trying to defend her “theory of change” and making Sanders seem as though he was all talk and no action. It’s important long-term strategic work for Clinton to turn Sanders’s ideological purity into a disadvantage. But I’m not sure that it will pay immediate dividends or how the testier exchanges will play.

It’s hard to know. As I said after the GOP debate last week, we’re in the phase of the campaign where reporters aren’t hearing the debate with fresh ears, and that makes it hard to know what voters at home will think.

Leah Libresco 11:29 PM
libresco-democraticdebate.liveblog

The moderators tonight tended to step back and let the candidates question each other, so I tracked the topics being covered each time someone spoke, rather than by what the moderator said. Defining who counts as a progressive took up 20 percent of speaking slots, and discussion about the horserace and scandals made up an additional fifth of the comments. Still, more than 50 percent of comments spent on the issues is probably a win.

Ritchie King 11:18 PM
Mentions of Republicans in tonight's debate
landonsimone 11:16 PM

I thought it was the best debate for the things that happened toward the beginning: the two of them sort of poking at each other on questions of electability and progressivism. But I didn’t like some of the questions on points that I think voters won’t really care all that much about — TV ads, data breaches, scuffles with unions. They wanted Clinton to attack Sanders on that and she just didn’t bite and it felt like dead space in the debate. Although, I guess there’s only so much these two disagree on.

David Firestone 11:14 PM

Yes, once they got their pre-written talking points out of the way early on, they gave the audience a fairly close look at their real selves, and not always in a flattering light. It was one of the best this season.

landonsimone 11:14 PM

I found the one-on-one format refreshing — looser and more nimble than even the three-person debates with O’Malley, let alone the GOP debates with their much larger cohorts. The question is whether the congeniality these two contenders generally have shown each other (disagreeing on policy but not going ad hominem) will persist as these one-on-one debates continue.

Hayley Munguia 11:14 PM

I agree with Micah — especially when the differences in their policy positions are pretty nuanced.

Ben Casselman 11:13 PM

I agree it was good, apart from the very boring section on politics in the second half. The best parts were when the moderators shut up and let the two candidates duke it out. They actually engaged with each other, didn’t just give their stump speeches.

landonsimone 11:13 PM

No.  I think the moderators absented themselves for long stretches and let the candidates compete on sentiment without holding their feet to the fire on their policy differences or acting to fact-check the claims being made (“Experts say,” etc.).

Micah Cohen 11:12 PM

A two-person debate is just more likely to be engaging and substantive at the same time.

Carl Bialik 11:12 PM

Seeing a lot of talk on Twitter and now on MSNBC that this was the best debate so far. Do you all agree?

Twitter 11:09 PM
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Farai Chideya 11:06 PM

I’m struck by Clinton’s repeated references to the age of Sanders’s supporters. I know it’s meant as an appeal, but it risks sounding pleading rather than enticing.

Carl Bialik 11:03 PM

Why would Sanders name Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell when the candidates have named so few other Republicans in this debate? Well, for one thing, if either of these debaters wins the presidency, he or she will need to work with the Senate majority leader. McConnell is also unpopular — even in his home state, where 52 percent disapprove of him, according to a November poll by Morning Consult. It’s by far the highest disapproval rating for any senator in his or her home state.

Ben Casselman 11:00 PM

One big challenge for immigration reform: The immigration debate is still stuck in the 1990s. The debate, for example, tends to focus on immigration from Mexico, but immigration from Asia has now topped immigration from Latin America. And for all the rhetoric, particularly from Republicans, illegal immigration has been largely flat for years.

casselman-feature-immigration-3
Carl Bialik 10:57 PM

It does seem, though, like a good way to underline her claim that she gets things done while Sanders calls for unrealistic responses — like Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation. That message was picked up by this Huffington Post reporter.

Nate Silver 10:55 PM

I’m a bit more cynical, I suppose. As a Michigander, I’m really happy that presidential candidates are visiting and talking about Flint. But the timing is unusual — you don’t usually take off on the Sunday before the New Hampshire primary — and it seems like a way for Clinton to lower the media’s expectations for how well she’ll do on Tuesday.

Ritchie King 10:55 PM

Speaking of Flint, Michigan, Clinton is headed there on Sunday. According to Rebecca Leber at The New Republic, Clinton has chosen to make the water crisis in Flint a high priority for her campaign for two reasons: “to shore up the African-American vote, and to bolster her general-election narrative about the need for good governance.” Does that seem right?

Ben Casselman 10:54 PM

A few moments ago I noted that economists are split on the likely impact of the TPP. But they aren’t split at all on trade: They’re for it. A survey of top economists from across the political spectrum in 2012 found that 85 percent thought free trade was good for both consumers and the overall economy. And 85 percent also believed that NAFTA, which Sanders opposed, made Americans better off on average.

Farai Chideya 10:52 PM

Trending on Twitter: a pushback to this comment by Bob Cusak, editor in chief of The Hill. Many commenters are decrying it as sexist; he says it applies to all candidates.

Nate Silver 10:50 PM

How inside the beltway is the Trans-Pacific Partnership as an issue? According to Google Trends, there are twice as many searches per capita for the trade deal in Washington, D.C., than in any of the 50 states.

Ben Casselman 10:49 PM

Economists are split on the economic benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the big trade agreement known as the TPP. A team of economists from Tufts University recently concluded that the trade deal would destroy jobs and worsen income inequality. Earlier this week, however, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank, released what was probably the most in-depth analysis of the TPP’s impact to date. The institute, which is typically pro-trade, found that the deal would increase U.S. exports, raise incomes and boost the economy as a whole.

Carl Bialik 10:47 PM

To understand how the water in Flint got so dangerous, and the public-health impacts so potentially enormous, that the crisis merited a question in the debate, see this FiveThirtyEight article by Anna Maria Barry-Jester, with graphics by Ritchie King.

Ben Casselman 10:46 PM

Clinton says she supports the death penalty in federal cases but is more ambivalent about it at the state level. Federal executions, however, are rare, and it’s taking longer and longer to carry them out. The federal government hasn’t put anyone to death since 2003.

casselman-datalab-tsarnaev-1
landonsimone 10:45 PM

The commercial breaks give us a window into the political process. An ad by the group NumbersUSA advocating lowering immigration has been showing repeatedly during the debates, including this one.

If Sanders’s position on immigration had a social media tag, it would be #itscomplicated. Sanders has stated: “I frankly do not believe that we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled to workers to compete with [unemployed] kids. I want to see these kids get jobs.” But one recent research study by academics from Indiana University and the University of Virginia found that immigrants help create jobs. Others point to the declining overall labor participation rate in America and argue that immigrants are diminishing the opportunities for native-born Americans. Japan, a nation which has below-replacement birth rates and does not allow widespread immigration, slipped into a recession again late last year, with many analysts arguing that it must open its borders in order to find a path to recovery.

In the United States, of course, immigration affects much more than labor markets. A 1965 immigration act broadened access to immigrants from the developing world, who were previously largely shut out. Since then, our nation’s demographics have transformed.

Immigration to the US has become steadily less European
Twitter 10:44 PM
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Nate Silver 10:41 PM

There’s another interesting dynamic, too, which is that there are actually quite a view Democratic-Republican swing voters in New Hampshire. Unaffiliated (independent) voters can vote in either primary. Believe it or not, some of them might be deciding between, for instance, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich. Stressing how conservative all of the Republicans are on social issues might have been a good strategy for Sanders, since those independents in New Hampshire are fairly socially liberal.

Jody Avirgan 10:40 PM

Are we surprised that these two haven’t been going after the GOP candidates at all? Who would have bet that more than 90 minutes in, Trump would have just one mention, and Cruz and Rubio wouldn’t have been mentioned at all?

Nate Silver 10:38 PM

That’s something that probably deserves a whole post instead of a quick liveblog take! (And Harry has dived into this.) The short answer is that Sanders would probably cost the Democrats a couple of percentage points, other things held equal, but not necessarily produce a McGovern/Goldwater type disaster. The longer answer involves mentioning that McGovern and Goldwater weren’t just “extreme” ideologically but also very divisive nominees, so some of it would depend on how much Sanders was able to unite the Democratic Party behind him.

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