By Noah Lieberman
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Though polling has remained pretty much constant since the last Democratic debate, the storylines and context are quite different heading into tonight’s ABC News debate in New Hampshire. In the past few days a new scandal has emerged implicating Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the stealing of Clinton campaign data. Meanwhile, terrorism has remained as the top issue for the media and many voters, giving the experienced Hillary Clinton the apparent edge for most of the debate. These things all conspire to bring a premature end to the Sanders campaign, which needs a good performance here to stay afloat heading into the new year. Will he be able to pull off the upset and improve his odds, and how will this all affect the market tonight? We explore all that and more in our preview below:
Can Bernie Use The Scandal To His Advantage?
Just as the terror attacks in Paris very suddenly changed the focus of last month’s Democratic debate, the breaking news that a Bernie Sanders staffer improperly used Clinton campaign voter data will undoubtedly change the course of tonight’s event in New Hampshire. While the Sanders camp is probably more than a little upset about the timing of this past week’s events, there is a chance that Bernie could turn this would-be scandal into a positive. To be sure, Clinton and the moderators will attack him quite a few times for this behavior, questioning his commitment to the party and his devotion to fair elections. But the harsh, and since rescinded, punishment of the DNC plays into one of Bernie’s biggest storylines of this campaign: He is running as the voice of the people, but the party establishment is doing everything in its power to ignore them and give the nomination to Clinton.
He’s already stressed this argument by complaining about the limited and more-or-less buried debate schedule, a point he’ll be sure to hit at this debate held the Saturday before Christmas, when almost no one will be watching, but the action of the party will just give him more fodder. His campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, has already made their feelings on the matter clear, saying in a statement “the leadership of the Democratic National Committee is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign.” If Senator Sanders comes out with similarly strong language, shifting the tone of the race to one of direct competition, then two things could happen: Either he succeeds, flustering Hillary and energizing his supporters around the country, winning the debate and perhaps gaining a crucial edge in the primary, or he fails, coming off as overly aggressive or defensive, looking like a man trying to spend conspiracy theories and undercutting his seriousness as a candidate on a national stage. This will likely be such an important topic in the debate that I might even hold off investing until it comes up, but either way expect prices to change dramatically once it does.
Will Domestic Issues Get More Of A Focus?
The terrorist attacks in Paris which happened mere hours before the last Democratic debate forced the focus of the debate to be shifted away from domestic and economic issues, where Sanders is strongest, to foreign affairs, where Clinton is undoubtedly the most experienced candidate of the three. The change in subject hurt Sanders, who lost an impressive lead in the market and the final focus group vote to Clinton, and he was vocal about his disappointment about the lack of time given to domestic issues. Along with the recent data scandal, ABC has promised to make the terror attack in San Bernardino and prevention of future attacks on US soil a focal point tonight, which may leave little time for the talk of tax reform and government spending which give Sanders most of his appeal.
Again, my strategy on this matter depends largely on how the Vermont Senator handles it if things don’t work out favorably for him. Allowing the focus to rest on counter-terrorism measures won’t let him overcome his deficit to Secretary Clinton, but if he changes topics abruptly or without reason, he risks coming off as a single-issue candidate. He’ll have to find a more solid connection between these security risks and his social reform to stay competitive if the moderators make things difficult.
Can O’Malley Regain Relevance?
Finally, we turn to the third candidate on the stage, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, whose inspiring if somewhat reserved performance at the first debate caused his stock price to skyrocket before putting up a thoroughly disappointing follow-up last month. He’s currently a non-entity both on the campaign trail and the markets, so this a real make-or-break moment for him, one that will necessitate bold moves and strong rhetoric. Chances are good that the governor doesn’t get many options to show off tonight based on his position in the polls, but if he doesn’t make a move for himself, he could still change the game for other candidates. Just as Bernie helped Clinton out by saying the public was “tired of hearing about her damn emails”, if O’Malley plays down the data breach or agrees that domestic issues warrant discussion, then he’ll give Sanders a major hand. Then again, if he sides with Clinton or stays out of it, the burden of overcoming everything against him may be too much for Bernie, and he may lose his second debate in a row.