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Horowitz: 5 Things to Watch For At Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Debate  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Rob Horowitz

Here are five things to watch for at the Democratic Presidential Candidates debate on CNN tonight:

1) Clinton and her Email Server: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s(R-CA) costly gaffe last week, in which he pretty much said that the purpose of the Benghazi Committee was to drive down Clinton’s poll numbers, amplified by the charge by a former investigator for the Committee that it was failing to get to the bottom of our failures in Benghazi because of its singular focus on Clinton and her emails, provides the former Secretary of State with a sent from heaven opportunity to go on the offensive and say she is being targeted politically by the Republicans. But this will only serve her well, if at the same time she continues to apologize for the poor judgment she used in deciding to do government business through a private server as opposed to a government one. This is still an issue the public cares about and one that has made a heavy contribution towards the fact that a majority of general election voters now distrust her. If she dismisses questions about the email server as all politics, it is likely to backfire.

2) O’Malley, Webb or Chafee attacking Clinton on her Email issue: Given that Anderson Cooper is likely to ask the other candidates about what they think about Clinton’s use of a private server, this provides an opportunity for the trailing candidates to gain attention with sound bites that will be widely aired post-debate, if they criticize her.  This would have been a no-brainer before McCarthy’s comments last week. There is still more upside than downside for the candidates that are in single digits in the polls, but now must be done with at least some nuance.

3) Sanders separating himself from Clinton on issues beyond consistency: Already strongly positioned in Iowa and New Hampshire--the locations of the critical first two contest--Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) may be the candidate with the most to lose and the least to gain in this debate.  He will definitely continually remind voters that he has been consistently opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Keystone Pipeline while Hillary Clinton is an election year convert on both these issues. But it will be interesting to watch and see if he takes the next step and criticizes her over-all approach as too moderate, too hawkish, and too cozy to Wall Street.

4)  O’Malley and Webb break-out moment: Unlike Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb have established themselves as credible Presidential candidates who voters can envision as President.  They are both, however, in desperate need of a break out moment. Look for O’Malley to wrap Clinton and Sanders together as part of a Washington that doesn’t work and aggressively make the case that as a Governor with an impressive record on gun safety, same sex marriage, and health care, he is the only one who has demonstrated that he can get important things done. A former Senator and Secretary of the Navy, Webb may look to distinguish himself from Clinton on foreign policy or in an effort to attract his natural base of moderate Democrats, stand up for the police and the importance of combating crime in any discussion of police brutality or the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

5)  Biden Camp’s Post-Debate Spin: No matter how well Hillary Clinton does tonight, the Biden camp is likely to offer a critique of her performance—if not on the record—at least on background. Look for mentions of her shifting positions on issues cited as evidence of her general problem of not coming across as authentic.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. .


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