Substantive Debate In Des Moines. Iowa Takes Its First-In-The-Nation Role Seriously

It was a crisp November day on Saturday as the Democratic Party geared up for its presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines. Bill Clinton was spotted downtown and so was a giant papier-mâché  Bernie Sanders.   Caitlyn Jenner was posing for photos outside the Drake stadium (site of Drake Relays), though her appearance seemed to be unrelated to the debate. Not a surprise since, as far as we know, she’s still a Republican.

As night fell outside the historic Sheslow Auditorium, O’Malley supporters chanted and the party faithful with tickets lined up for the main event. A few people waiting in line recognized Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and came over to say ‘hello.’ |

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

He said that he stays neutral during the caucuses, but believes that Iowa deserves its first-in-the-nation status during the primary season. “I think Iowa’s shown that they take this responsibility very seriously,” he said. “So, it’s a place where retail politics really matters and unscripted events, where people stand in someone’s living room or the back room of a cafe and take questions from real live human beings. I think Iowa does that really, really well.”

He went on to explain the Iowa’s strong civil rights record means that this small, majority white state is capable of leading-off in an election year. “Iowa has a long history of fighting for equality.   The first decision of the territorial supreme court in Iowa was a case called In the Matter of Ralph. It was the same facts as the Dred Scott decision only they came to the right conclusion, that a slave could not be put back into slavery,” Gronstal continued to tick off a few of Iowa’s ahead-of-the-curve civil rights achievements.

He said that he believes economic disparity is going to be one of the major issues of the upcoming election, “I think income inequality across the board is a challenge, in particular for women getting 77% or 78% percent of what a man makes. That is going to be -- I think that’s going to one of the defining issues of this campaign is income inequality.” Gronstal noted the income inequality is about more than just equal pay for women, “It’s about things like paid leave, people that have sick kids and loved ones to take care of - caregivers...I think it’s about finding an economy that works for everybody. Right now it works for very few."

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

Indeed income inequality factored into the evening’s debate. It’s Sanders’ bread and butter and he launched right into the topic during his opening remarks. Although, it seemed  a little awkward because it was clear he felt obligated to comment on the Paris Attacks, but really just wanted to talk about the economy.

Sen. Sanders:

“Well, John, let me concur with you and with all Americans who are shocked and disgusted by what we saw in Paris yesterday.   Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS.   I'm running for president because as I go around this nation I talk to a lotta people.   And what I hear is people concerned that the economy we have is a rigged economy.”

There was no avoiding the attacks in Paris, which influenced some of the debate questions.   It put more of a spotlight on Hillary Clinton, who was forced to defend the Obama Administration’s record in the Middle East.

 

Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved. CBS News Political Director and FACE THE NATION anchor John Dickerson moderates the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 14, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

CBS News Political Director and FACE THE NATION anchor John Dickerson. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

On ISIS...

Sec. Clinton:

“...But it cannot be an American fight.   And I think what the president has consistently said-- which I agree with-- is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS.   That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs so that we can be supportive.   But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”

Gov. O’Malley:

“I would disagree with-- with Secretary Clinton, respectfully, on this score.   This actually is America's fight.   It cannot solely be America's fight.   America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies.   America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world.”

Sen. Sanders:

“But of course international terrorism is a major issue that we've got to address today.   And I agree with much of what-- the secretary and-- and the governor have said.   Only have one area of-- of disagreement with the secretary.   I think she said something like, ‘The bulk of the responsibility is not ours.’ Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely.   And led to the rise of Al Qaeda-- and to-- ISIS.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 14, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

There was some virtual eye-rolling on Twitter when Sanders tried to link terrorism to climate change, but  he’s not wrong that security agencies are worried about its effect on global stability.   However, in the debate forum it fell flat and seemed forced.

There were more fireworks compared to the last debate. O’Malley was not fighting with Webb and Chaffee for time and he and Sanders both went after the frontrunner, Secretary Clinton. They attacked her not just for her foreign policy (i.e. her Iraq war vote, possibly underestimating ISIS), but also for her connections to Wall Street.

It was the Wall Street discussion where Clinton probably made her silliest blunder of the evening. She tried in a very labored way to link 9/11 to helping the financial industry. "I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild,” she said.   

  She also mentioned that 60% of her donors are women, but some feminists weren’t having it.

Donald Trump was the inspiration for some of the best zingers of the evening. Sec. Clinton addressed the issue of free college tuition that she believed community college should be free and four-year universities ‘debt free.’ She differed with Sanders on making four-year colleges tuition free.

Governor O’Malley arguably landed the best line of the evening when he called Donald Trump “...that immigrant bashing carnival barker.”   

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 14, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

Unsurprisingly, Bernie Sanders was most on his game when addressing income inequality. On taxing Wall Street he said, “We bailed out Wall Street. It's their time to bail out the middle class. ... We haven't come up with an exact number yet but it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower. ... I'm not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower."

One thing that was missing from this debate was a substantial discussion of women’s health and that didn’t go unnoticed on social media. We think this was the only mention of reproductive rights in this go-round.

Gun Control was also a hot topic.

Following the debate Hillary Clinton gave VERY brief remarks at an on-campus rally. I tagged along with John Deeth, a seasoned Iowa blogger who led me on a sprint across campus to the rally.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 14, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the CBS News Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University Des Moines, Iowa.   Photo: Chris Usher/CBS  © 2015 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

Working our way through security a reporter pointed out the pile of pink pepper spray canisters that security confiscated. She noted that it was sad commentary on campus life that women couldn’t feel safe.

Once inside the rally the press was kept in the back and it was tough to even see Sec. Clinton, but there was no lack of enthusiasm from her supporters. Many of them were wearing “I’m Fighting for Her” t-shirts. It’s not exactly “Yes We Can,” but it’s evidence that the Clinton campaign is not running away from the history making possibilities of a Clinton nomination.

 

Winners:
Democrats, because this was a substantive debate with no jackass to steal the spotlight.

Martin O’Malley because we got to know him a little better and he had the zinger about Trump. He’s setting himself up well for a cabinet position.

Runner-up:
Hillary Clinton because she fended off attacks well and came across as presidential. The breadth of her resume shows.

Losers:
Wall Street and 'big business.' This is a year for populist politics.