Top Moments of the ABC Democratic Debate in New Hampshire

Democratic debate wrap
Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Governor Martin O'Malley clashed at the debate. Brian Snyder/Reuters

Updated | On Saturday night, three would-be nominees for president gathered at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire for the third debate to determine who will lead the Democratic party into the 2016 presidential election.

Tensions between the campaigns were high going into the debate: on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had suspended independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign's access to voter data after a Sanders staffer was found to have improperly viewed and downloaded voter data collected by former Secretary of State Clinton.

In New Hampshire, Sanders apologized to Clinton for his staffer's behavior and backed off of the heated rhetoric of the previous 24 hours. "I want to apologize to my supporters, this is not the kind of campaign I run," Sanders said. "If I find anyone else involved they will be fired." Clinton, too, seemed eager to let the issue fade into the background. "We should move on," added former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. "The American people aren't at all interested in this."

1219_clintonlessdebate Democratic U.S. presidential candidates U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and former Govenor Martin O'Malley (R) resume debating with rival Hillary Clinton missing from her podium as she failed to return from a break in time. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Democrats provided a strong contrast with Republicans on issues of crime and policing. Clinton and Sanders referred to "systemic" racism against Black and Latino men and dismissed the idea of a "Ferguson effect," the notion that, in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, police are unwilling to approach suspects. "Police officers should not be shooting unarmed people, predominantly African Americans," Sanders said. "We need to rethink the war on drugs," he added, "which is why I have taken marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act."

The subject of drugs is especially relevant in New Hampshire, where heroin addiction is more prevalent than in the rest of the country. Clinton called on doctors to prescribe fewer opiates, while Sanders described addiction as a "disease, not a criminal activity." And O'Malley cited an anecdote about someone he knew who died of an overdose.

Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley used the moderators' questions about foreign policy to attack the Republican front-runner, New York businessman Donald Trump. "He is becoming ISIS's best recruiter," Clinton said in reference to Trump's proposal to bar all Muslim non-citizens from entering the country "until our leaders figure out what is going on." As is typical for him, Sanders attacked Clinton for her vote to invade Iraq in 2003, a move he opposed, and for the invasion of Libya, which she advocated as secretary of state. "I worry Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change," Sanders said, citing the violent vacuum created in the wake of the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's former president. "Secretary Clinton was gleeful when Gaddafi was torn apart," O'Malley chipped in, "but we didn't know what would happen next."

But moderator Martha Raddatz pressed Clinton over U.S. intervention in Libya. "There's always a retrospective to say what mistakes were made," Clinton conceded.

At times, Clinton appeared to advocate a more muscular foreign policy than Sanders or O'Malley. "If the United States doesn't lead, there isn't another leader, there's a vacuum," Clinton said. But O'Malley insisted the U.S. has "a role to play in the world, but it is not traveling the world looking for new monsters to destroy." While Sanders argued the U.S. military should prioritize defeating the Islamic State group over fighting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Clinton argued the U.S. must fight both simultaneously or risk a wider conflagration.

1219_debate Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to a question about encryption at the Democratic presidential candidates debate. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

O'Malley, who entered the night polling at five percent, was unusually animated. O'Malley lashed out at Sanders for his opposition to the Brady Bill, which makes background checks a requirement for gun sales from registered dealers. O'Malley also criticized Clinton for what he called "the flip-flopping approach of political Washington."

O’Malley often interrupted the moderators and seemed frustrated to be playing third fiddle. “Do I get to respond on that issue?” O’Malley asked.

Clinton leads in the polls and has raised more money than either of her challengers, a point Sanders has attempted to capitalize on. Unlike Clinton, Sanders does not accept contributions from corporations or "Super-PACs," relying instead on small, individual donors. "I don't think I'm going to get too many campaign contributions from Wall Street," Sanders said Saturday night. "The greed of Wall Street is destroying this country."

The Sanders campaign has tried to paint Clinton as subservient to the interests of Wall Street. But Clinton said she wants to be the candidate of "the struggling, the striving and the successful," arguing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and tax incentives for small businesses.

Sanders apologized to Clinton for the data breach Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders addresses former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the campaign data breach scandal during the Democratic presidential candidates debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire December 19, 2015. Brian Snyder/Reuters

Moderators were eager to highlight the contrast between Clinton and Sanders. "Should corporate America love HIllary Clinton?" moderator David Muir asked. "Everyone should!" Clinton responded. "Will corporate America like a President Sanders?" Muir asked Sanders. "No, they won't" Sanders replied brusquely.

O'Malley took the opportunity to pummel Clinton, reminding viewers of Clinton's bizarre response to a similar question from the last debate in which she attempted to use her time as a U.S. senator from New York during the September 11, 2001 to paint her Wall Street support in a positive light.

Clinton has argued that Sanders lacks the necessary foreign policy experience to become commander-in-chief. The Sanders campaign has backed away from pointed questions about foreign policy in the past, preferring instead to hew to its preferred narrative of income inequality. Again on Saturday, Sanders, when asked about the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, linked the attack to income inequality.

Sanders closed on his favored theme, inequality. "I know what it's like to be the son of an immigrant," he said. "This great country belongs to all of us, not just billionaires."

"On our worst day, we have a lot more to offer the American people than the right-wing extremists," Sanders said of the Republican field.

O'Malley closed on climate change, citing the need for vigorous American investment in renewable energy, and also blasted the Republicans, saying "anger and fear never built America."

And Hillary Clinton warned voters about the consequences of a Republican victory in 2016: "a lot of the rights that have been won over the years...will be at risk," she said, adding "Planned Parenthood will be defunded."

"May the force be with you," she added.

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