NPR logo 5 Hits And 5 Misses From The Democratic Debate

5 Hits And 5 Misses From The Democratic Debate

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on stage at the presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on stage at the presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

This post was updated at 10:15 a.m. ET

The first Democratic debate brought out some passionate and, at times, awkward moments from the five candidates on stage. A highlight of the night was when Bernie Sanders decided he'd had enough of Hillary Clinton's email scandal, exclaiming "the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails."

But Sanders later stumbled on foreign policy, and Clinton struggled to defend her changing positions.

Here's each candidate's best and worst moment from Tuesday night:

Hillary Clinton

Best: A progressive

Clinton was asked whether she is a progressive or a moderate — an early question that in many ways got to the heart of the Democratic race.

"I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done," Clinton answered.

She went on to say she knows how to find common ground and knows how to stand her ground, "even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly."

Worst: Never took a position

"I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone," Clinton said as she defended her record on climate change policy. Clinton came out last month against the Keystone XL Pipeline, but had been slammed by environmental groups for her earlier silence on it. In this moment, she had to acknowledge that slow crystallization of her position, especially next to Sanders and O'Malley, who had opposed it earlier.

It wasn't the only moment where she had to wrestle with taking a stance. She was later asked if she was going to take a position on the legalization of marijuana; she simply answered "no."

Bernie Sanders

Best: Clinton's emails

As Clinton ended a response about her email controversy, Sanders jumped in, "I think the secretary is right — that is, that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails." The crowd cheered, and he got a partial standing ovation.

"Thank you. Me, too," Clinton responded.

Sanders finished the response talking about the issues closest to his campaign — the middle class and income inequality.

Worst: Putin will regret it

If Sanders seemed in his element talking about income inequality and poverty, he was out of his element talking about foreign policy.

Talking about Russia, he said "well, I think, um, Mr. Putin, uh, is going to regret, uh, what he is doing." Some in the audience started to laugh. Anderson Cooper remarked that Putin doesn't seem to regret much, and Sanders went on, "I think he is already regretting what he did in Crimea, and what he is doing in the Ukraine; I think he is really regretting the decline of his economy, and I think what he is trying to do now is save some face."

Sanders also addressed Syria, calling it a "quagmire in a quagmire."

Martin O'Malley

Best: Guns legislation

After Sanders and Clinton went back and forth on whether gun manufacturers and store owners should be held legally responsible, O'Malley earned cheers for this response:

"It's fine to talk about all of these things, and I'm glad we're talking about all of these things, but I've actually done them," he said, before introducing the parents of a woman killed in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting.

"The game was rigged. A man had sold 4,000 rounds of military ammunition to this person that killed their daughter, riddled her body with five bullets, and he didn't even ask where it was going. ... They were slapped with $200,000 in court fees because of the way the NRA gets its way in our Congress and we take a back seat. It's time to stand up and pass comprehensive gun safety legislation as a nation."

Worst: Debating about debates

O'Malley used up some of his precious debate time talking about ... the debate itself. "I believe that now that we're finally having debates, Anderson, that we don't have to be defined by the email scandal and how, what the FBI's asking about," O'Malley said, addressing the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in the audience. "Look how glad we are actually to be talking about the issues that matter most."

Jim Webb

Best: National security

Asked about military force in Libya and whether Clinton should have seen the attack in Benghazi coming, Webb pivoted to the role of Russia in Syria.

Webb comfortably laid out "three strategic failings" in the Middle East and the role of the U.S. in Iraq. He listed his accomplishments, including five years at the Pentagon and his service in Vietnam.

He also spoke about China, calling the U.S. relationship with the country "the greatest strategic threat we have right now."

Worst: Enemy soldier

Webb created an awkward moment when answering the question, "Which enemy are you most proud of?"

Chafee said the coal lobby, Clinton said Republicans and Sanders said special interest groups. Webb, who served in the Marines, answered: "I'd have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me. But he's not around right now to talk to." He then flashed a wide grin, as the audience started to laugh but then stopped.

Lincoln Chafee

Best: No scandal

Right out of the gate, Chafee started with a jab to Clinton, saying in his opening remarks, "I'm very proud that over my almost 30 years of public service, I have had no scandals. I've always been honest, I have the courage to take the long-term view, and I've shown good judgment. I have high ethical standards."

Worst: You're being a little rough

Chafee was asked about his 1999 vote that made banks bigger, Glass-Steagall. He really didn't know how to answer that and said, it was his "very first vote." "I'd just arrived, my dad had died in office, I was appointed to the office," he said.

Anderson Cooper pushed back, "Are you saying you don't know what you voted for?"

"I just arrived in Senate. ... I think you're being a little rough; I just arrived at the United States Senate." He then tried to pivot to income inequality after some audible groans from the audience.