Who Won the Democratic Debate in New York

April 15th 2016

Mike Vainisi

The pivotal New York primary is on Tuesday, and the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, debated in Brooklyn last night, trying to win over the remaining undecided voters.

Here are the six moments that really mattered.

Moment #1: Is Clinton qualified to be president?

Democratic Debate Judgment Question

Sanders recently said that Clinton isn't "qualified" to be president. The statement generated serious controversy and even spurred a viral hashtag.

Sanders did not repeat the line last night, but he did say that he questioned Clinton's judgment, including her vote for the Iraq War in 2002.

Democratic Debate Judgment Question

Clinton handled the issue well at the debate. “I've been called a lot of things in my life," she said about the "unqualified" attack. "That was a first."

She went further, saying that Sanders' questioning of her judgment meant that he was also questioning the judgment of New York voters, who twice elected Clinton to the U.S. Senate, and questioning President Obama, who selected Clinton as his Secretary of State.

Who won the moment? This was good for Clinton. The idea that she’s unqualified never really made sense. In fact, one could argue that she’s one of the most qualified people ever to run: a two-term senator, a former secretary of state, and eight years in the White House as a very policy-oriented first lady.

Moment #2: Clinton won't release the transcripts of what she said in speeches at Goldman Sachs.

Clinton on Goldman Sachs speech

After her time as secretary of state, Clinton gave paid speeches at Goldman Sachs. (The bank paid her $225,000 for one in 2013.) In light of the criticism that Clinton is too cozy with Wall Street, many have called on her to release the transcripts of those speeches so voters can see what she said. She hasn’t so far, and she maintained her refusal when asked about it last night.

The speeches won't come out, Clinton said, until other candidates, including Republicans, also release transcripts from similar, paid speeches (Additionally, Clinton tried to deflect by pointing out that Sanders has not yet released his tax returns, which Clinton has already released. Sanders then promised that he will release them.)

Who won the moment? Clinton looked very bad here. For one, she blatantly dodged the question the first time asked, forcing CNN moderator Dana Bash to ask a second time. Secondly, Clinton’s argument that she’s waiting for Republicans might be a good general election strategy, but the fact is that we’re still in the Democratic primary, and Democratic voters want to know that she’ll be objective when it comes to Wall Street.

So why won’t she release them? We can’t know for sure. What we do know is that her campaign has decided that the heat she’s taking now is not as bad as the heat she’d take for what’s in those speeches.

Moment #3: Sanders could not come up with one example of Clinton being bought by Wall Street.

Clinton Wall Street

On the other hand, when pressed to come up with one example of Clinton being corrupted by Wall Street, Sanders failed to mention a specific instance. He responded to the question with generalities about Clinton's close ties to the financial sector, but gave nothing concrete.

"He cannot come up with any example because there is no example," Clinton replied.

Who won the moment? This was a weak moment for Sanders. For the last year, he's made the case that Clinton can't be trusted to stand up to the banks. He should have a better answer for this question, especially this deep into the campaign.

Moment #4: Clinton seemed to change her position on the minimum wage.

Sanders Clinton Minimum Wage

In one of the more confusing moments of the night, Clinton seemed to say that she was in favor of a $15 federal minimum wage. Last year, at the start of her campaign, Clinton was in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage, while Sanders supported a $15 federal minimum. (The federal minimum right now is $7.25.)

"I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour," Sanders fired back at Clinton.

Who won the moment? This was a win for Sanders. It’s never great when a candidate seemingly changes positions on the debate stage, even though it's true that Clinton has supported $15 at the state and local levels. Last night's exchange could be interpreted as Clinton changing her position now that the $15 minimum has more momentum.

Moment #5: Bernie still can't pass the guns test.

Clinton Sanders NRA

Sanders argued that he once lost a congressional election over his opposition to the gun industry. As Clinton quickly pointed out, however, the NRA and gun rights are often credited with fueling Sanders’ victory in his next congressional run.

Who won the moment? Sanders just can't get past this issue. While it’s true that he has a D- rating from the NRA, it’s impossible to ignore that Sanders has consistently been to the right of most Democrats on guns.

Moment #6: Neither candidate has a good answer on the 1994 crime bill

Clinton Sanders Crime Bill

When it comes to the 1994 crime law that was passed under President Bill Clinton, neither candidate is a winner. The law, which many attribute to worsening the disproportionate incarceration of Black people, is now viewed in the Democratic Party as a major mistake of President Clinton.

Hillary Clinton apologized last night for the "consequences" of the law, and Sanders admitted that the law led to "awful things."

Who won the moment? Neither candidate looked good here. Clinton supported the law as first lady. Sanders voted for the law as a congressman. (Although the Clintons have been at the center of the backlash to the law, it's hard to understand why Sanders is not taking more heat. He actually casted a vote for it.)

Related: Here's the Real Winner of the New York Democratic Debate