Deconstructing the #demdebate: Clinton, Sanders control conversation – Washington Post

Deconstructing the #demdebate: Clinton, Sanders control conversation – Washington Post

The five Democrats running for president debated for the first time Tuesday night in Las Vegas. The two front-runners owned the conversation. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders together said 56 percent of the words spoken by candidates.

Jim Webb, on multiple occasions, complained that the speaking time was unequal. His concern had merit – he spoke about half as many words as Clinton did, with many long gaps between words.

When each candidate spoke

5,397 words

4,561 words

3,232 words

2,785 words

1,685 words

Over the course of the debate, candidates repeatedly touched on their flagship issues. For Sanders: Wall Street and the one percent; for Clinton: climate change and foreign policy.

Sanders and Martin O’Malley focused on gun control and the NRA. Jim Webb emphasized his war experience and Lincoln Chafee his experience dealing with Iraq.

What they talked about (by number of mentions)


Most candidates were reluctant to criticize the current administration. Instead, they praised President Obama and focused on how they would push his administration’s policies further.

Number of Obama mentions

When asked about how her presidency would differ from a third Obama term, Clinton said: “Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had up until this point, including President Obama.” On policy, though, she offered little criticism beyond how she would “go further” than the current administration.

Sanders balanced his approval of the current Democratic administration with how a Sanders administration would be tougher on Wall Street. O’Malley, like Clinton, would “go further” than Obama on immigration.

Although Clinton and Sanders had indicated they wanted a civil debate, Clinton managed to put Sanders on the defense in several exchanges. They had heated volleys about national security, Wall Street banks and gun control.

Who Clinton
and Sanders mentioned

One of the most memorable moments of the evening came when Sanders took a stand after Clinton was questioned about her use of a private e-mail system while serving as secretary of state. “Let me say something that may not be great politics,” he said. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”

[What you need to know about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails]

All the exchanges between candidates

O’Malley, who has been sharply critical of Clinton in his campaign speeches, didn’t seem committed to challenging her. He tried to highlight his record on criminal justice, immigration and other issues. Both he and Clinton challenged Sanders on gun control.

None of the other candidates mentioned Lincoln Chafee throughout the debate.

[Lincoln Chafee’s very bad night, in 1 chart]

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