No significant exchanges transpired during the last Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa caucus that will likely change the candidates’ chances of victory in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
All eyes were on leading candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as their Iowa poll numbers have become increasingly close in the run-up to the January 3 caucus. But the debate, hosted by the Des Moines Register, offered them few opportunities to draw contrasts between each other’s campaigns.
Many of the questions were open-ended and allowed the candidates to respond with broad, sweeping statements. Examples of these questions included “what are your New Year’s resolutions?” and “what would you do your first year as president?”
The most pointed question Clinton entertained came during a portion of the debate devoted to “character and leadership.”
Des Moines Register Editor and moderator Carolyn Washburn noted many thought Clinton’s approach to healthcare reform as First Lady was “too closed and secretive.”
“Some Iowans are worried that your presidency would operate the same way,” Washburn said. “As president how would you ensure your administration would not withhold information from the public even if it would give ammunition to your critics?”
Clinton said she didn’t have a strong communications strategy as First Lady and that as president she would “have an open and transparent government” and that she would “put as much as we can on the internet.”
“Let’s use it, let’s have as much sunlight as we can possibly gather,” Clinton said.
No follow-up questions were asked about Clinton’s reluctance to release records from her husband’s presidential library related to her tenure as First Lady. Republicans have characterized this as the “Clinton library lockdown.” Immediately after Clinton promised transparency, a representative of the Republican National Committee emailed media a fact sheet that noted only one-half of one percent of all the documents in the Clinton presidential library are available to the public.
The candidates tittered and giggled when Washburn attempted to ask Obama a hard-hitting question about foreign policy that Obama nimbly turned into a light-hearted joke on Clinton.
Washburn asked Obama, “You have Bill Clinton’s former National Security Advisor, State Department policy director and Navy secretary, among others, advising you. With relatively little foreign policy experience of your own, how will you rely on so many Clinton advisors and still deliver the kind of break from the past that you're promising voters?”
Clinton began audibly laughing at this and interjected, “Yeah, I wanna hear that!”
Obama shot back, “Well, Hillary I’m looking forward to you advising me as well!” before launching into a discussion about “changing the mindset that got us into this war.”
When asked questions related to the budget and taxes, both Clinton and Obama said they would raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. Neither would commit to balancing the federal budget.
The Des Moines Register hosted a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday and is expected to make an endorsement sometime this weekend.