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Do Democrats Really Need Any More Debates?

A Commentary By Fran Coombs

Monday, December 21, 2015

Political lightning seems unlikely to strike Hillary Clinton twice.

Badly burned by a young senator named Barack Obama when she first ran for the presidency in 2008, Clinton appears to have a clear field ahead on her way to the Democratic presidential nomination next year, barring legal troubles over her still percolating e-mail problems. Clinton’s performance at Saturday night’s debate – focusing much of her fire on Donald Trump and the Republican presidential field – suggests that the former first lady and her top aides agree that her Democratic rivals aren’t even worth her full attention anymore.

In fact, other than Clinton needing longer to go to the bathroom during a break than her male opponents, the most widely reported aspect of the evening was Clinton’s charge that Trump “is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter” with his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering this country.

Trump’s GOP rivals have toned down their criticism of that plan after national polling found that 66% of Republicans and a plurality of all voters approve of such a ban until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here. Unlike Clinton, most voters also are willing to say that we are at war with “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Voters are evenly divided, though, when asked whether Clinton or Trump would best keep the country safe from terrorism. 

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Many feel the Democratic contest was largely over after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took Clinton’s e-mail problems off the table at the first debate. But Sanders was much more critical of Clinton Saturday night than he has been in past debates, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley even played the age card, highlighting the fact this his two opponents are a generation older than he is. But in a race now largely dominated by national security concerns, Clinton’s portfolio as secretary of State and her command of the related details are tough for the other two to talk around.

Gun control naturally was a much-discussed issue Saturday night, with O’Malley highlighting the controls he imposed in Maryland, but in the current climate, Americans appear more interested in exercising their gun control rights than in giving any of them up.

Also, following the mass murders in San Bernardino, California, voters are much more focused on domestic terrorism than on gun control despite President Obama’s effort to make the incident a gun control issue. 

The criticisms of Clinton’s opponents have been completely ineffective to date. Our latest monthly Hillary Meter released last week shows that an overwhelming 87% of Likely Democratic Voters think Clinton is likely to be their party’s presidential nominee in 2016, with 56% who say it is Very Likely. That marks very little change from a month ago  right after the second Democratic debate  and is virtually identical to the findings in the first monthly Hillary Meter in July

If Clinton has a weakness, it’s among Democrats under 40, but her commanding lead among those in other age groups easily compensates. 

Rasmussen Reports will release post-debate numbers on the Democratic race tomorrow morning, but it’s unlikely that Clinton’s lead will be dented in any significant way.

Sanders and O’Malley have complained repeatedly about the national Democratic Party’s decision to hold just six debates, compared to the 12 scheduled by the GOP. Also, while the Republican debates have been rambunctious primetime free-for-alls with millions of viewers, two of the three Democratic debates have been on Saturday nights, and the next one is scheduled for a Sunday, not exactly prime viewing periods. Case in point: Saturday night’s debate produced little, if any, comment in news columns by Monday morning.

Her rivals protest that the national party is trying to protect Clinton. Some commentators suggest the party is not doing her a favor by shielding her from higher-profile debating like the kind that is honing the skills of all her GOP rivals. But most Democrats are fine with just six debates.

After all, while Democrats are less likely than Republicans to say they have been following their party’s debates Very Closely, they feel more strongly that their debates have done a good job educating voters.

As the year draws to a close, the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination appears to be over, with the first primary votes just a few weeks away. But it’s questionable whether it’s ever really been a contest anyway.

Similarly, the GOP appears to be Donald Trump’s party now, as it has been since the first debate. 

Trump vs. Clinton? The early primaries should tell us very quickly whether that’s the ultimate choice. Then the real debate will begin.

Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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See Other Commentaries by Fran Coombs.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com

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