This was Hillary Clinton's game to lose. The former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State came into Tuesday night's (Oct. 13) first Democratic presidential debate with a big target on her back. And, as anyone who has watched her political career over the past, oh, decades, could have guessed, she didn't back down and didn't take any flack from her four fellow candidates.
From her much-talked about vote in 2002 to authorize the war in Iraq to the current quagmire in Syria, Clinton cooly deflected criticism from her biggest rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while making some sharp points about gun control, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Black Lives Matter and the greatest threats facing America right now.
Sanders is leading Clinton in polling in crucial early states like New Hampshire and Iowa and is almost matching her fundraising in the past quarter, even as she outspent him 2-to-1. So all eyes were on those two as the two-plus hour debate unfolded.
Trying To Make Noise From The Margins
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee -- who was mostly on the margins during the debate -- tried to get an early shot in by noting that he's had "no scandals" in his 30 years in public office, tipping his hat to his "high ethical standards."
But Clinton kept to her game plan and then swatted away questions about her ongoing email scandal and past flip-flops on issues such as the civil war in Syria. And when Chafee brought up ethical standards again, asked if she wanted to respond, Clinton smiled and said, "No."
Black Lives, All Lives, Which Lives Matter?
All night long on Twitter, though, some viewers were complaining that the issue of race was not being addressed at all. Then, near the end of the first hour, came a question from Iowa college student Sterling Arthur Wilkins, who asked, "Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?"
Asked what she would do for African-Americans in the U.S. that President Obama could not, Clinton said, "I think that President Obama has been a great moral leader on these issues. And has laid out an agenda that has been obstructed by the Republicans at every turn. What we need to be doing is not only reforming criminal justice... we need to tackle mass incarceration." But she added that she thinks the debate needs to go further.
"We've got to do more about the lives of these children," she said. "That's why I started off by saying we need to be committed to making it possible for every child to live up to his or her God-given potential."
The Line Of The Night
"Being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had, including President Obama," Clinton said in one of the only nods to her position as the first female Democratic presidential candidate in history.
She came back to that point again when asked about political dynasties and how outsiders like Sanders have been embraced this year, sometimes to the exclusion of insiders like herself.
"I can't think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president," she said.
Oh, and she also took on the criticism from Republican candidate Carly Fiorina that mandated, paid maternity leave would mean fewer jobs and another huge government program.
"When people say that it's always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, 'you can't have paid leave, you can't provide healthcare,' they don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood," she said. "They're fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it!" Boom!