Five Democratic candidates for U.S. president debated on national television for the first time last night.
Hillary Clinton – the front-runner and former Secretary of State – debated mostly with the popular Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont.
Three other candidates joined Clinton and Sanders for the debate in Las vegas. They were former Senator Jim Webb, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee. Each added an occasional comment.
But many analysts say the clear winner was the Democratic Party.
Unlike the Republican debates, the Democrats were generally polite and supportive with each other. Clinton and Sanders took a swipe here and there, but the tone was mostly civilized.
A high point of the debate was when Mr. Sanders stood up for Ms. Clinton. She was questioned again by the moderator about her use of a private email account as Secretary of State. While not illegal or against policy, it cast doubt upon her character.
"Let me say something that may not be great politics," Mr. Sanders said, meaning he could hurt his chances by agreeing with her.
"But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!"
The crowd – mostly Democratic Party supporters -- erupted in cheers and applause.
"It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader,” she said, “to drive down my poll numbers."
More than 15 million people watched the debate on television and the Internet, according to CNN, the network that hosted the event. It lasted two hours.
In September, CNN hosted a more crowded Republic Party debate that drew about 22.9 million viewers. It was the most-watched program in the network’s 25-year history.
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Clinton sometimes clashed over issues including gun control, economic policy, and the role of the U.S. military overseas.
Mr. Sanders defended gun rights for hunters in rural states like Vermont, his home state. He drew the line at sales of military-grade arms and ammunition sold to individual citizens.
A looming question remains whether Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race. Mr. Biden says he has not made up his mind.
A fund-raising group called Draft Biden has produced an emotional video called “Run, Joe.” It encourages Mr. Biden to run for president.
Draft Biden is known as a “super PAC,” or a fund-raising group that collects enormous sums of money to fund a candidate or issue.
Clinton's strong performance in the debate Tuesday makes it less likely that Biden will choose to enter, according to political analysts.
"By taking Sanders on directly, by being well-versed on the issues, it makes it harder – not impossible, but harder – to explain where the vacuum in the current Democratic field is that Biden would fill," said analyst Craig Veroga.
A new poll released Monday showed 48 percent of Democrats surveyed wanted Biden to join the race. If he were running, the poll said Clinton would still be the leader, with Sanders running second and Biden in third with 17 percent support.
"He could shake things up," political scientist Christopher Wlezien with the University of Texas told VOA. "But my sense is that it's probably less true after tonight."
I'm Jim Tedder.
Kathleen Struck adapted this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
occasional – adj. not very often, every now and then
take a swipe – idiom, to try to hit someone or to criticize someone
persistent – adj. to make a point over and over
partisan – n. strong supporter of one party or one cause
looming – v. to hang over in a way that is threatening
enormous – adj. huge, very large
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