The Democratic Candidates Face Iowa Citizens' Skepticism


Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley were on CNN for two hours Monday night, not to debate each other, but to answer questions from an Iowa audience a week before that state’s Feb. 1 caucus. They were met with good, pointed questions that yielded some interesting responses and not a few moments of drama.

Bernie Sanders was up first, and CNN host Chris Cuomo called on audience members who asked Sanders to define his brand of socialism (“it’s a democratic socialism [for] the rights of economic security [and] government should play a role in this… These are not radical ideas”) and how he was going to fund the programs he has “pitched.”

Sanders rejected a notion that his health care plan was impractical and a tough sell to voters because it involved increasing taxes. While taxes would increase, he said, the health-care savings that would result from his reforms would far outweigh the tax hike.

Cuomo brought up the fact that Sanders, if elected, would be the oldest President ever, at age 75… except Sanders is 74. “You’re going to be 75,” responded Cuomo. “So are you!” said Sanders sharply, getting a big laugh. Sanders stood up to make his final pitch to the audience, arising from the terribly uncomfortable-looking chairs on the theater stage at Drake University.
This not only forced Cuomo to stand as well, but also set the posture for the rest of the night. Sanders exited and O’Malley emerged next, stood, and then one-upped Sanders by doffing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves to show he meant business.

As usual, O’Malley came across as smart and likable and thus most genially without a prayer in this election. Asked a very good question about family farms by a young woman who identified herself as an economically beleaguered family-farm owner, O’Malley responded with… nothin’: He had nothing to tell her but vague pro-farm, mildly-anti-agri-business sentiments. It was an intriguing moment, catching a pro politician flat-footed like that, and the disappointment in his answer could be seen on the woman’s face.

After O’Malley took his leave, Hillary Clinton came charging out in a red suit that matched her pugnacious mood. It was as though she’d been backstage warming up with a punching bag, a trainer fanning her with a towel, telling her to guard her chin and throw a few haymakers.

Clinton stood for her entire 45 minutes and absorbed the blows — about Benghazi, about her private email server, about her campaign tactics. All of her answers were specific and spirited and can be boiled down to this one response: “I’ve been around a long time — people have thrown all kinds of things at me… They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.”

An audience member asked her to name her favorite President, and Cuomo turned it into a wincingly cute moment, inserting himself between Clinton and the questioner by insisting she name “only one — only one!” President. “Sorry, President Obama. Sorry, Bill,” Clinton said. “It’s Abraham Lincoln.” It was the easiest question she got all night.