Tonight featured the second one-on-one discussion between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The two candidates touched on a variety of issues from racism, criminal justice reform, campaign financing, foreign-policy and a favorite staple, income inequality.

Early in the debate the conversation shifted to questions of systemic racism and the need for criminal justice reform. While artfully skirting around the recent criticisms made against Hillary Clinton in the damning article written by Professor Michelle Alexander, the discussion instead focused on a general need to examine policies that disproportionately affect blacks over whites. Disappointingly as well, there was no discussion of the 1994 crime bill which has been thrust back into the national spotlight in the wake of Alexander’s article. Its absence during the debate is likely due to the fact that both candidates were supporters of it at the time. Although both have since denounced it, the bill remains an unfortunate piece of history that each would prefer not to acknowledge.

As often as possible, Bernie Sanders took the opportunity to turn the conversation back to issues of wealth and income inequality, along with questions of campaign finance reform. Much like last week, Clinton pushed back against the notion that high paying donors results in political influence, citing that President Obama managed to maintain a tough position with regard to Wall Street even after having accepted donations during his 2008 run for president. Sanders quickly refuted this and drew heavy attention to the correlation between pharmaceutical donations and the high price of medical treatment. Even when questioned specifically on the nature of race and its role in class inequality, Sanders only briefly referenced vague statistics concerning the affect of the Great Recession on people of color before quickly finding a path back toward economic injustice.

While the two Democratic candidates tended to be in “vigorous agreement” on the majority of issues, sparks of dissent did fly when the two discussed matters of healthcare and immigration. As she has done before, Hillary Clinton sought to present Sanders’ plan of “medicare for all” as a dangerous disruption of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Sanders defended his stance by expressing his desire to improve upon the ACA, not to repeal it.

When discussing immigration, Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton’s position that children sent to the United States from dangerous areas of Central America ought to be returned to their parents. Clinton rebutted by saying that it was necessary to send a message to parents not to risk their children’s safety by sending them away. Sanders replied that the use of children is not an appropriate way to “send a message.”

One of the more pensive moments of the debate came when moderators asked Hillary Clinton to speak on her historic quest to become the first female president, and whether or not women should support her as an act of solidarity. As she has done previously, Clinton welcomed the support of all of her voters, and hoped that she would manage to convince them of her qualifications to be president. Following her response, Sanders was asked if he felt that he would be impeding history should he become president over Hillary Clinton. In his own thoughtful manner, Sanders alluded to his background as the Jewish American son of an immigrant and said that what he brings to the presidency is historic in its own way.

The debate took a sharper turn as the candidates began to address issues of foreign policy. Eager to display her strength and expertise, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with poise and confidence on the state of Russia as it relates to Syria, in addition to other issues in the Middle East. This is a skill gap that Bernie Sanders still has not made up for. While his positions seemed firmer than last week and though he managed to find solid footing through an examination of historical teachings, the majority of his current assessments were weak and ambiguous. Sanders did gain points by invoking what he characterized as an uncomfortably close relationship between Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.   

In an effort to rise to a strong finish, Clinton tried her best to align herself with the policies and practices of current president Barack Obama while at the same time drawing attention to contrast between the president and Senator Sanders. As expected, the perceived rift between Obama and Sanders has made an ample target for attack. However, Sanders was ready. Denouncing Clinton’s comment as a “low blow,” Sanders shot back with a confident response of his own, questioning whether not in a democratic society senators were allowed to disagree with their presidents.

In a debate marked by periods of sharp contrast and tenuous agreement, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders put forth solid performances that will aid each of them in their quests to gain voters on the path to the Democratic nomination. By virtue of being the underdog, Bernie Sanders, although still notably weak on foreign policy, will likely be considered the winner of this week’s contest. Check back for coverage of the next Republican Debate this Saturday February 13th at 9pm ET.

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