BLK Vote: 5 Things We Learned From The Democratic Debate

by Corey Ealons /  / Updated 

1. Black Lives Matter

Credit to the moderator for introducing this issue fairly early in the debate via a question from Facebook. Each of the candidates who had a chance to answer the question either made the salient point that black lives matter or gave reasons why criminal justice reform should be near the top of any presidential candidate’s domestic policy agenda.

Sen. Bernie Sanders actually noted in his opening comments the high unemployment rate among African American youth (51 percent), and the high rate of incarceration in the community. Secretary Hillary Clinton noted that criminal justice reform is one of the few bi-partisan issues in Washington, and that something should be done now.

Unfortunately, while both of those candidates have met with leaders of the Black Lives Matter, neither mentioned those interactions in their responses. They each missed a chance to further send a signal to young African Americans inspired by the movement that they were willing to listen and engage members of their generation.

2. Bernie Sanders is a moderate on one issue: Guns

Sanders, despite his meeting with leaders of Black Lives Matter, will continue to have a difficult time with African Americans, and Clinton’s attack on his votes on recent gun issues may haunt him. She was clearly well prepared for this moment and saw it as a chance to solidify her credentials with progressive fence sitters and to weaken him.

This was definitely the low point of the night for Sanders as former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley swatted away Sanders’ rationale of supporting hunters in his state of Vermont. If Sanders wants to expand his base and tap into the Obama coalition, he needs a better response to this question.

Image: US Democratic Presidential debate at Wynn Las Vegas
epaselect epa04976765 US Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton (R) talk to each other on stage prior to the start of the Democratic presidential candidates debate at Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 13 October 2015. EPA/MIKE NELSONMIKE NELSON / EPA

3. O’Malley deserves to be on stage

Former governor Martin O’Malley turned in a good performance, making salient points about his record as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland. For nearly every domestic policy question from higher education to providing rights to undocumented immigrants, O’Malley noted that he had been there and done that.

He also effectively dealt with the most challenging issues of his reign in both of those offices including the notion of over-policing. Unfortunately with solid support at the top for Clinton and Sanders, there really is no room for him to move up.

4. Hillary Clinton is on a roll

With the recent gaffe from Congressman McCarthy on the real reason for the Benghazi committee and a good performance at last night’s debate, Clinton certainly has momentum on her side at this point.

During one of her comments, she offered that Americans are now standing thanks to the work of President Obama, but she wants to make sure they can run and achieve their dreams. So it is unfortunate that her only missed moment last night was offering more detail on her five point economic plan, which surely speaks to the concerns of African Americans.

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Hold First Debate In Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle / Getty Images

5. Democrats are united in support of issues impacting minorities

While the explicit issue of race in America did not come up, issues impacting communities of color certainly did. From criminal justice reform to immigration, from making college affordable to paid family leave, there was little daylight among the leading candidates on how these issues would be resolved if they enter the White House. The key is voters are certainly interested in hearing more about how these things would actually get done.

It was a good debate, and the contrasts with the two Republican debates so far concerning style and substance could not be more stark. The candidates have five more shots to tighten up their messaging and broaden their appeal as we make our way towards the first votes in February.