By Noah Lieberman
As the last debate before the Iowa Caucus, tonight’s proceedings could have a significant impact on the course of the Democratic primary. Though three candidates will take the stage tonight, only two have a chance at standing victorious in the Hawkeye State, so here are the questions which will determine success for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Questions For Sanders
Will he match Clinton’s attacks?
The biggest development in the race since the last Democratic debate (aside from a few new polls showing a closer matchup in early states) is that the Clinton campaign finally seems to be treating Sanders as a legitimate threat for the nomination. Hillary and her squad have started to go after Sanders, attacking him for his more radical voting record, and Clinton herself has supposedly expressed disappointment in not starting this barrage sooner. It seems fairly obvious that she’ll continue this during tonight’s debate, but Sanders’ reaction is anything but.
In the past, his reactions to Clinton’s barbs have ranged from defensive to passive-aggressive, but Bernie has never met fire with fire, though perhaps the former Secretary of State has finally crossed the line. If he does, he’ll have to make it a measured response since anything too aggressive might not jive with his supporter’s vision of him, which is largely based on his ability to put politics aside for policy. Still, a response too limited may make him appear weak to undecided voters, or worse give implicit credence to Clinton’s charges. This is going to be more of a snap judgment on your part, but if Sanders starts to look out of his element, it might be time to dump his stock.
Can he close the race gap?
Though Sanders has started to look downright dominant in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, he still lags behind nationally and in the South because of his poor numbers with African American and Hispanic voters. The Vermont senator’s message just hasn’t resonated with minority voters the way it has with other democrats, and this debate is one of his last chances to reach out to them before South Carolina and the other so-called SEC primaries. Sanders will have to clearly demonstrate why he is the better candidate on issues relevant to minority voters, and, more importantly, why Clinton is not.
Questions For Clinton
Can she show her passion?
Clinton’s biggest weakness thus far in the campaign is not a new one, and has many political commentators seeing flashbacks to 2008. Clinton, who again has more experience, endorsements, and money than her challenger, has failed to seal the deal because she just can’t get voters as excited as her rival. She’s been described as cold and robotic, seemingly going through the motions of the campaign to get to her long-prophesized presidency. In order to improve her chances at this debate, she’ll have to break from the script, break from her sometimes monotonous delivery, and give us some show of real emotion.
Can she make a case for moderateness?
Similarly, Hillary has spent the entire primary process drifting to the left, slowly adopting the more progressive positions of Bernie Sanders. This has left many wondering why they should vote for the more moderate Clinton if the party, including her, is destined to end up at Sanders’ positions. Clinton is going to have to separate the ideology from the policy and make the case for why her more centrist brand of liberalism has its merits compared to Bernie. Lately, she’s tried to reverse the narrative and emphasize the issues, like gun control, where she is more liberal than Sanders, but to truly put his campaign in the rearview, she’ll have to attack him at the core of his ideology.