You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Highlights From the Democratic Town Hall Forum

The candidates get in a last word before the Iowa Caucus.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One week before the Iowa caucuses, the three democratic candidates got one final chance to persuade voters at a town hall event. Hosted by CNN and the Iowa Democratic Party at Drake University, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders made their closing arguments. Read the highlights below and follow along at our blog Minutes, where we’re covering the town hall in real time.

Bernie Sanders Says He’s Got the Heart and the Experience

Moderator Chris Cuomo alluded to arguments that Sanders has the heart and Hillary Clinton’s got the head in the Democratic race. “Is Secretary Clinton simply better prepared for the job?” he asked. Bernie immediately rose to his feet, “This calls for a standing-up response.”

After explaining that he respects Clinton, a refrain throughout his campaign, Sanders went on to draw distinctions between his positions and Clinton’s: on the Keystone pipeline, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and on the Iraq war, all of which he opposed from the beginning. Clinton eventually decided to oppose Keystone (now a moot point) and the TPP, but Sanders can still hold onto his vote against the Iraq War like a shiny badge. Sanders also worked in his standard plug to increase enforcement of Wall Street. “Their greed and recklessness helped destroy our economy,” he said.

Cuomo noted that Sanders had jabbed Clinton a bit, comparing her to Dick Cheney. Sanders seized on the conventional notion that both Cheney and Clinton are “experienced” in foreign policy, noting that experience doesn’t always translate to success. “Experience is important, but judgement is also important,” he said.

Martin O’Malley Challenges Iowa to Vote for Martin O’Malley

The former Maryland governor has made his case in Iowa. But even under the most optimistic scenario, O’Malley is not going to be the winner of the Iowa caucuses.

O’Malley’s performance (perhaps a rehearsal for a cabinet position?) was fairly standard. He noted that he repealed the death penalty in Maryland as governor, and drove down violent crime as mayor of Baltimore—even though it was through a tough incarceration policy that has done him no favors with liberal voters. His record was called into question by an Iowa State University student, Joi Latson, who asked how O’Malley’s past criminal justice policies might square with his current platform to address structural racism.

O’Malley ended with a message to his supporters in Iowa: “Hold strong at your caucus.” With direct references to President Obama’s 2008 caucus victory and some rhetorical flourishes—“The enduring symbol of our country is not the barbed wire fence, but the Statue of Liberty”—O’Malley seemed to be putting a lot of faith in the caucus process.

“My candidacy is in your hands,” O’Malley intoned, “do with it as you will.”

Clinton Was Asked Why People Don’t Like Her—and Gave Her Best Answer of the Night

The first question for Clinton cut right to the chase. A self-professed Bernie supporter wanted to know why she thought young people aren’t as enthusiastic about her campaign, and why some of them find her “dishonest.”

Clinton’s answer may have been rehearsed but her recap of her decades of political experience was still powerful; it gave her a chance to immediately cast herself as the most experienced, well-rounded, and generally most presidential candidate. She managed to turn the criticism embedded in the question—that people don’t like her—into a strength:

“I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age. I have been fighting to give kids and women and the people who are left out and left behind the chance to make the most of their own lives. ... I’ve taken on the status quo again and again. I’ve had millions of dollars spent against me. ... The drug companies, the insurance companies spent millions against me ... if it were easy, hey, there wouldn’t be any contest. But it’s not easy. ... You have to have somebody who is a proven, proven fighter. Somebody who has taken them on and won.”

Clinton “was at her best because she wasn’t making any effort to present herself as especially millennial-friendly or fresh,” wrote Elizabeth Bruenig in our Minutes blog. “She was presenting herself exactly as she is: a politician who’s spent a lot of time in the trenches, whose station and experience in the halls of power you either take or leave.” Nothing in Clinton’s answer was particularly groundbreaking, but she was poised and impassioned.