Hillary Clinton outshines Democratic candidates in first debate

(From left) Democratic presidential candidates Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee take the stage for a presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The five candidates were participating in the party's first
(From left) Democratic presidential candidates Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee take the stage for the party's first presidential debate in Las Vegas on Oct 13, 2015. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Poised and prepared, she coolly dives into topics like gun control and foreign policy

US Democratic presidential candidates presented a united front during their first debate, choosing to discuss national issues rather than hurling personal attacks - a stark contrast to the debates involving their Republican counterparts.

But the victor of the night still turned out to be front runner and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who came across as poised and prepared as she tackled issues ranging from gun control to foreign policy.

Quick to seize on policy differences, Mrs Clinton said her main nomination rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was "not at all" tough enough on guns, highlighting that he had voted for a Bill that protected the gun industry.

"I voted against it," she said.

The top two candidates also sparred on the issue of Wall Street.

NO MORE ABOUT E-MAILS

Enough of the e-mails...The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.'

VERMONT SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS, addressing his main rival Hillary Clinton on the investigation into her e-mail use.

Mr Sanders was adamant the big banks should be broken up.

Mrs Clinton did not go as far, but was forceful about her plan to regulate the big players and hold them accountable.

When the topic of Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail server came up however, her rivals said they wanted to move beyond it.

"Enough of the e-mails," said Senator Sanders, who is trailing Mrs Clinton in the polls.

"The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails."

IN FULL AGREEMENT

Thank you. Me too.

Me too.

THE FORMER FIRST LADY, responding to Mr Sanders.

"Thank you. Me too. Me too," the former first lady replied, following which the two shook hands in agreement.

Mrs Clinton is facing an investigation into whether the private e-mail server was used inappropriately during her stint as the country's top diplomat, and critics have repeatedly used the issue to cast doubt on her integrity.

Mrs Clinton reiterated her stand, saying: "I've taken responsibility...I did say it was a mistake."

Professor of communication Kirby Goidel from Texas A&M University said Mr Sanders was "consistent, forthright, genuine", "unapologetic about who he is" and certainly delivered the sound bite of the night when commenting on Mrs Clinton's e-mails.

But other experts pointed out that he seemed less prepared than Mrs Clinton. "Sanders' responses were often heavy on identifying problems while sometimes light on providing specific solutions," said communication professor from the University of Missouri Mitchell McKinney.

During the 2 1/2 hour debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday (Oct 13) night, Mrs Clinton was also asked about "flip-flopping" for political expediency.

Last week, she came out against the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (which includes the United States and Singapore) - a reversal from her original position when she was secretary of state and called it the "gold standard" of trade deals.

The shift comes as she hopes to appeal to more liberals who believe the deal takes away American jobs.

"I do absorb new information, I do look at what is happening in the world," she said, adding that the final deal did not meet her standards to create more new jobs.

Said associate professor of communication Jennifer Mercieca from Texas A&M University: "She came prepared to answer the flip-flop question and answered very reasonably."

According to an aggregate poll by political website Real Clear Politics, Mrs Clinton continues to be the Democratic front runner nationally with 43.3 per cent of support, while Mr Sanders has 25.1 per cent.

"Her performance in this first debate will likely help secure her position as the Democratic front runner," said Prof McKinney.

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb and former governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee were also part of the debate, but none achieved the breakout moment they were looking for.

As for Vice-President Joe Biden, the debate provided no slip-ups that could help him decide whether he should still make a bid for the White House, said Mr Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Clinton outshines Democratic candidates in first debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe