Democratic Presidential Debate: 7 Moments That Mattered

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton faced off one-on-one for the first time.

February 4, 2016, 11:52 PM

— -- Just five days before New Hampshire voters will have their say in their state’s first-in-the-nation primary, there was another first in the Granite State: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe on a debate stage, just the two of them.

The intimate setting led to some of the most heated exchanges of the campaign so far, reflecting the fierce battle for the Democratic nomination at a crucial moment: Just a few days after Clinton eked out a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses and before Sanders appears poised to claim victory in New Hampshire.

During the 90-minute debate, held at the University of New Hampshire and hosted by MSNBC, the candidates, at times, seemed not just to speak but to shout their answers. After a particularly feisty squabble, co-moderator Rachel Maddow acknowledged, “Obviously we’ve touched a nerve.”

Here are seven moments that mattered at the final Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary:

1. Clinton Calls Sanders’ Attack On Campaign Cash An "Artful Smear"

In what was perhaps the nastiest clash between the two Democratic hopefuls, Clinton challenged Sanders over his frequent attacks against her and her allies for raising cash from Wall Street and big business.

“Enough is enough. If you've got something to say, say it directly,” Clinton scolded. “You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.”

She went on to call Sanders’ argument an “artful smear.”

For his part, Sanders bemoaned the influence of lobbying and big money in politics: “There is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money into our political system,” he said.

2. Clinton Tries to Shut Down Sanders’ Establishment Argument

The attack Sanders has been using on the campaign trail -- trying to label Clinton his "establishment" opponent -- happened again tonight.

"I will absolutely admit that Secretary Clinton has the support of far more governors, mayors, Members of the House. She has the entire establishment or almost the entire establishment behind her," Sanders said before touting his support from "ordinary Americans.”

But Clinton hit back: "Senator Sanders is the only person who would characterize me a woman running to be the first woman president as exemplifying the establishment."

3. Democrat vs. Democrat Progressive One-Upsmanship

Over the past week, Sanders has been challenging Clinton’s record as a progressive (she’s only one on “some days,” he said). But tonight, Clinton came armed with talking points to highlight her own progressive chops.

“It is fair to say, Senator, that in your definition, as you being the self-proclaimed gatekeeper for progressivism, I don't know anyone else who fits that definition,” Clinton said, ripping into her challenger.

“If we're going to get into labels, I don't think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady bill five times. I don't think it was progressive to vote to give gun makers and sellers immunity. I don't think it was progressive to vote against Ted Kennedy's immigration reform,” she continued. "So, we can go back and forth like this. But the fact is most people watching tonight want to know what we've done and what we will do.”

Sanders, meanwhile, doubled down on his definition of a progressive — calling out Clinton for her super PACs and donations from Wall Street. “One of the things we should do,” he said, “Is not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.”

4. Bernie Sanders Stumbles Through Foreign Policy Answers

It’s not easy debating a former Secretary of State on foreign policy.

“North Korea is a very strange situation because it is such an isolated country run by a handful of dictators -- or maybe just one,” Sanders said, referring to Kim Jong Un and declining to name specifics.

Clinton cited her experience and preparedness for any foreign policy crisis that could come up. "A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS,” she said, referring to Sanders’ critique of her Iraq War support.

But Sanders pointed to decision-making as what’s most important. “I fully, fully concede that secretary Clinton, who was Secretary of State for four years, has more experience,” he said. “But experience is not the only point. Judgment is.

5. Hillary Clinton Is "100 Percent Confident" Email Investigation Isn't Going Anywhere

When asked whether an FBI investigation into her private email server would cause problems for the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said she was "100 percent confident" it would not.

"Honest to goodness, this beggars the imagination," she said. "I have absolutely no concerns about it."

Still, officials have found almost two dozen emails they now label "top secret," some of which investigators are not releasing to the public.

"I never sent or received any classified material," Clinton said, leaving out her usual qualification that her server did not contain any material "marked" classified.

6. Hillary Clinton’s Dodge On Releasing Speeches

After the moderator asked Clinton if she’d release the transcripts of her paid speeches from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Clinton demurred.

“I'll look into it,” she said. “I don't know the status.”

Instead, she used the question as an opportunity to tout her foreign policy credentials.

“I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the president about going after Bin Laden,” she said.

7. Bernie and Hillary’s Mutual Admiration Society

In a debate that was defined by its contentious exchanges, toward the end the two candidates seemed to soften when Clinton was asked whether she might ever see her rival as running mate material.

The former secretary of state didn’t go that far, but offered this: “If I'm fortunate to be the nominee, the first person I call to talk to about where we go and how we get it done will be Senator Sanders."

In response, Sanders acknowledged that he respects Clinton “very much” and turned his complement into a dig at the GOP: “On our worst days I think it is fair to say we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate.”