Democratic Presidential Debate: 7 Moments That Mattered at the Las Vegas Forum

PHOTO: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Oct. 13, 2015.PlayAP Photo
WATCH First Democratic Presidential Debate In A Minute

Hillary Clinton may have stepped onto the stage at the first Democratic presidential primary debate Tuesday as the frontrunner to be her party’s nominee, but she did not shy away from a fight.

Her second quest for the White House has hit several roadblocks since she announced her candidacy, including persistent questions about the private email account she used as secretary of state and a more vigorous-than-expected challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The debate was dominated by sparring -- intense at times -- between Clinton and Sanders with the other candidates, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee playing supporting roles.

The most intense skirmishes of the night were over gun control, differences on foreign policy, Clinton’s emails and her handling of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi. Here’s a look at seven moments that mattered at the first debate:

1. Hillary Clinton on the Attack Over Gun Control

Sanders may have been the most liberal candidate on the debate stage on most issues, but not on gun control. And Hillary Clinton pounced.

“No. Not at all,” Clinton forcefully asserted when asked whether Sanders was tough enough on gun control. “We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA.”

“It wasn't that complicated to me,” she continued on Sanders’ vote on a bill that would shield gun companies from lawsuits. “Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers?”

But Sanders said that sometimes compromise may be necessary to pass bills in Congress.

“We can raise our voices. But I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not,” Sanders said.

O’Malley also jumped into the fray. “We were able to pass this and still respect the hunting traditions of people who live in our rural areas,” he said. “We did it by leading with principle. Not by pandering to the NRA and backing down.”

2. Sanders Says Enough With the “Damn Emails”

Sanders came into this debate saying he wanted to discuss the issues and he didn’t want to attack Clinton. He stood by that comment tonight, even backing up his rival over the email scandal that has rocked her campaign over the last seven months.

Moderator Anderson Cooper questioned Clinton about the controversy and at the end of their back and forth Clinton said she wanted to “talk not about my emails, but about what the American people want for the next president of the United States.”

Sanders jumped in agreeing and said, raising his voice: “Let me say something. I think the secretary is right. And that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”

Sanders added, “Let's talk about the real issues facing America.”

Clinton thanked Sanders, shaking his hand. The crowd then let out a huge cheer and rose to its feet.

But Chafee did not back down, saying “there’s an issue of credibility.” But when Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond, she didn’t hesitate, quipping, “No.”

3. Bernie Sanders Goes Full Socialist

Sanders may be running for president as a Democrat, but the Vermont senator is actually a Democratic Socialist. Tonight he explained exactly what that means to America.

“We're going to win because we'll explain what it is," he said. "What Democratic Socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent own 90 percent.”

Sanders listed his proudly progressive beliefs -- not shying away -- saying, “Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”

Sanders didn’t hesitate to flaunt his beliefs, earning cheers from the crowd at the Wynn.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?,” he asked. “No, I don't. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.”

Cooper then asked if any of the other candidates did not consider themselves capitalists. Clinton jumped in jabbing, “We are not Denmark,” she said. “We are the United States of America, and it's our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn't run amok and doesn't cause the kind of inequities we're seeing.”

4. Jim Webb Wishes He Had More Time

Jim Webb might be at 1 percent in the polls, but he was going to make sure he got his fair share of the time in tonight’s debate.

“Can I get in the discussion at some point?” he asked after 10 minutes of radio silence. “I've been standing over here for ten minutes trying. It's gone back and forth over there.”

The former Secretary of the Navy had his eye on the clock throughout the debate, as the debate centered largely on frontrunner Clinton and her main challenger, Sanders.

“You've let a lot of people go over their time,” he said, after getting cut off during an answer on foreign policy.

“I hope I get that kind of time here,” he said later on, following a lengthy answer from Clinton on race relations.

“I know my time has run out,” he said a few minutes later. “How this debate has occurred is kind of frustrating because unless somebody mentions my name I can't get into the discussion.”

5. Martin O’Malley Ends On a High Note

O’Malley had a few distinguishing moments during Tuesday night’s debate on immigration and race, but his closing statement aimed to distinguish the Democrats from the Republican side.

“On this stage you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief,” he said.

O’Malley aimed to paint himself as a next generation candidate, referring to Clinton’s immigration policies as “old thinking.”

“I truly believe we are standing on the threshold on a new era of American progress,” he said. “Talk to our young people under 30. You'll never find among them people that want to bash immigrants or people that want to deny rights to gay couples.”

But an ABC News analysis shows that Clinton and Sanders soaked up much more speaking time during the debate, and it may not be enough to catapult him out of low single digits in the polls.

6. Who Is A Block Of Granite?

Cooper asked Chafee about a vote he cast in 1999 when he first got to the Senate. But Chafee explained the vote was a mistake, essentially saying that he didn’t know what he was doing because he was brand new to Capitol Hill.

Chafee replaced his father in the Senate when he died and tried to explain the vote away saying he had “just arrived.”

Cooper followed up asking him if he “didn't know what you were voting for?” Chafee said again “it was my very first vote.”

Cooper asked again, pressing Chafee: “With all due respect, what does that say about you that you're casting a vote that you didn't know what you were voting for?’

Chafee told Cooper, “I think you're being rough.”

“I had just arrived, my dad had just died, I just arrived at the city and it was 90 to 5,” he tried to explain, incorrectly citing the vote count. According to GovTrack the vote came down to 90 to 8.

It was the second strange answer of the night for the former Rhode Island governor. Earlier when trying to explain why he went from being a Republican to an Independent and now is a Democrat, he insisted he hasn’t changed his beliefs on the issues.

"Anderson, you're looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues," Chafee said.

7. It Does Take Me A Little Longer

Hillary Clinton was the only woman on the debate stage this evening -- and apparently it showed during the sprints to the bathroom during commercials. CNN came back from a commercial block and it looked like the candidates may have made a quick dash to the restroom -- and it seemed like Clinton may have made it back last.

“All the candidates are back, which I'm very happy to see,” Cooper said to laughter from the crowd. “Let's continue. Secretary Clinton, welcome back.”

Clinton didn’t pause, saying with a smile, “Well, thank you. You know, it does take me a little longer. That's all I can say.”

She noted a little later that she isn’t an “insider,” but an outsider despite her many years in Washington.

“I can't think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president, but I'm not just running because I would be the first woman president. I'm running because I have a lifetime of experience in getting results and fighting for people,” she said.