On Saturday evening, in Manchester, New Hampshire, the three remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination took the stage for their third debate. The ABC debate was held at a relatively inopportune time as far as ratings go: the weekend before Christmas.
Viewers reached a total of 6.71 million for the evening, with about the same rating in Nielsen’s “metered markets” as the second debate last month, also held on a Saturday. Viewership was, however, only about one-third of what the Republican debate garnered earlier last week.
In New Hampshire, the state where the debate was conducted, Sanders holds a strong high single/low double-digit lead over Clinton -- although Clinton leads by a convincing 25 points nationally.
Despite the stunted reach of the event, there were issues of consequence that pervaded the debate.
It is becoming clear that the Clinton campaign is increasingly focusing its energy on preparing itself for a hard-fought general election. Many of her comments were directed at the GOP front-runners, in particular Donald Trump — a development that will be addressed by this column later in the week.
Clinton made a statement on foreign policy that many believe will haunt her in the general election, should she win the nomination. When speaking of the post-Paris attacks White House strategy to fight ISIL, she said: “We now finally are where we need to be.”
Republican candidates latched on to what sounds like a complacent comment from the former Secretary of State, who touts foreign-policy experience as a major element of her resume. Though no major gaffes seem to have affected her position as Democratic front-runner, the statement will return as a sound-bite next year — especially if we see additional setbacks in the international fight against Islamic extremism.
The recent DNC-Sanders debacle over voter data was brought up and quickly dismissed.
Accused of actively stealing Clinton campaign data, the Sanders campaign was closed out of its own DNC-hosted data collections last week. Sanders countered with a lawsuit, and the DNC quickly returned access to the campaign. He apologized in Saturday’s debate for the incident and has fired and disciplined staffers involved, with additional personnel moves possible.
Finally, Martin O’Malley tried his best to get in shots at the two leading candidates. He called both Clinton and Sanders flip-floppers during a discussion on gun control and invoked his youth, while talking about ISIL: “May I offer a different generation’s perspective on this?” O’Malley may no longer be in the running for the nomination, but his experience as an executive and assertive demeanor could make him a compelling choice for vice president.