On the Political Front: Feisty Democratic Debate Reflects Tight Race

Jan 18, 2016

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) participate in the Democratic Candidates Debate hosted by NBC News and YouTube on January 17, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the Iowa caucuses.
Credit Andrew Burton/Getty Images

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joined Morning Edition to talk about Sunday night's Democratic debate and Republican Ted Cruz's big push here in New Hampshire.

The Democrats debated Sunday night. It’s the final time before people start voting. What did you think?

Well, that it’s too bad we won’t get a debate closer to primary day. And also that this race  -- at least between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – is a tight one, and that was clear last night. You had Bernie Sanders reciting poll numbers – almost Trumpian – to argue for his electability, and you have Hillary Clinton going at Sanders on guns, which has been  a point of friction in this race for some time, with real zeal. Sanders has shifted his stance on gun manufacturer and gun seller liability. He voted to extend liability protections to makers and sellers, but now says that should be revisited. And then there was health care.

Yes, that’s been a more recent fight, particularly over the the past few weeks.

Yes. There is the policy part of this. Sanders believes that a Medicare for all plan would give more people health care and lower overall costs; Clinton believes a sweeping remake to so-called Obamacare is implausible.  But beyond that there is the positioning. Throughout the debate, Clinton cast herself as a steward of President Obama’s policies, be it Obamacare, or Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, and tried to cast Sanders as someone who might undo those these things -- wittingly or not.

OK, so with the Demcorats in South Carolina for the debate, Republicans have New Hampshire all to themselves for the moment. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and John Kasich are all here today.

Yes. Ted Cruz arrived Sunday for three-plus days of action. His event at a Milford restaurant drew a very enthusiastic crowd. This trip is his second to New Hampshire in a week. Cruz hadn’t been here for almost two months, and as his fortunes have risen nationally, more voters here are interested in checking him out. What those who turned out got was a message long on red meat and conservative policy promises. 

Ted Cruz filing for the New Hampshire primary.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

   Cruz would undo all of President Obama’s executive orders on guns and immigration. He would order a justice department investigation of Planned Parenthood. He would tear up the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, as well as some other stuff – all on day one. Cruz’s pitch, beyond those  specifics, is one against Washington itself, and against his own party almost as much as Democrats.

Donald Trump will be in Concord today. He and Cruz have been clashing of late. Did Trump come up much last night?

Of course. Two of the questions Cruz faced from voters alluded to Trump. By the way, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also came up, but no Republican, by name at least, other than Trump.

John Kasich, whose whole campaign hinges on New Hampshire, will be here for couple of days, too. His pitch is a lot different than Cruz’s.

He will be here and you’re right that Kasich and Cruz probably aren’t fighting for many of the same voters. Unlike Cruz, Kasich often talks about compromise and cutting deals, both as Ohio governor and as a member of Congress. Unlike Cruz, Kasich’s political fortunes really ride on New Hampshire, and to that end, Kasich has got to be pleased that he picked up some local newspaper endorsements over the weekend. The Seacoast Media Group, which owns the Portsmouth Herald and Foster's Daily Democrat, endorsed Kasich; as did the Nashua Telegraph. How much sway these—or really any – editorial pages has over New Hampshire voters these days is hard to say, but Kasich will call it progress.