Politics

"This Week" with Dr. Mitchell McKinney

Dr. McKinney analyzes the first Democratic primary debate for the 2016 race to the White House

This Week with Mitchell McKinney

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The debate continues about who won the first Democratic primary debate of the 2016 race.

Dr. Mitchell McKinney joined us after the September Republican primary debate. Now, the professor and chair of political communications at Mizzou is back again as our guest for "This Week."

I started our conversation by asking the same question I asked after the GOP debate: "Who won this round?" 

This is a transcript of our conversation:

Dr. McKinney: Well, I think both, the front runner, Hillary Clinton, but also the principal contender Bernie Sanders gave enough to their supporters in a way claiming that they won the debate.  Much of the media commentary immediately after said that Hillary Clinton did what she needed to do in terms of some doubts going into that debate. We are now hearing did she perform well enough to dissuade Vice President Biden from wanting to get into the race.  But certainly, now a lot of her doubters are saying that she is aggressive. She's put some of these problems that she's enduring maybe behind her, we will see if she has secured herself as the front runner of the race. I think Bernie Sanders also performed well enough that his supporters are still with him going forward. I don't know that any of those other candidates, sometimes referred to them as the "also-rans," those that are not really leading the pact. I don't know that there was such a strong performance that one of those other three seemed to have emerged or jumped to the "contenders" category.  Starting with Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland. Some people have said maybe he could continue to grow into the race; that his performance showed signs of perhaps being a contender. So we had, I think, good debate performances by several candidates.  

Joey Parker: Talking about winners…is there a "loser" in your estimation?

Dr. McKinney: well, I think in a sense those other three, Senator Webb, Martin O'Malley, and Lincoln Chafee really didn't break away from the pack. We are going to have fewer debates in this cycle. The last time the Democrats, in 2008, had a primary contestant they had 25 different debates. I think in this cycle we are only likely to see four to six.

Joey Parker: As a presidential historian and expert on this, do you think that's a good thing?

Dr. McKinney: Well, I believe the number that we had two cycles ago in 2008, many folks were saying "this is too much," there's saturation here, the audience started to decline. Now, in terms of "should there be more," usually what happens is the leading candidates want fewer and those other contenders want more, so that's what we are seeing too.

Joey Parker: Did you think that this debate was a little more civil that the Republican debate?

Dr. McKinney: What we had in our analysis of the two debates, the two Republican debates and now the first Democratic primary debate is that this debate was focused more on an issue discussion. There was much less focused on personalities on responding to attacks on the earlier Republican debates. The initial question was one of the candidates had attacked an opponent on the campaign trail and then that opponent was asked to respond. We had much more issue discussion in this debate. Some said perhaps it was more boring in terms, that there wasn't a lot of drama, as much as we saw in the earlier Republican debates.

Joey Parker: Not very much attacking of one another. They did take a couple of jabs to the Republicans. Do you think that was an internal decision among the candidates?

Dr. McKinney: Well, I think in at least this initial debate they needed to get their jab and establish who they are.  And so, I think that led to now "let's focus on who our opponents are."  I think that's why we saw some mild jabs to the Republican candidates, but far less than what we will see once this debate heats up and when we get closer to the voting in February.  

Joey Parker: Many analysts say that one of the reasons Donald Trump is doing so well with the Republicans, Bernie Sanders with the Democrats is people are looking for an outsider, although Bernie Sanders is an incumbent U.S. Senator, but they are looking for an outsider. Are you surprised at how well Bernie Sanders is doing?

Dr. McKinney: Well, I think for Senator Sanders as you said, he was a state elected official, in the U.S. House for many years, and now in the United States Senate so it's hard for him to take that outsider roll, yet he is really transforming that outsider call into an attack on big government, an attack on Washington, an attack on big bank industries. So, therefore, he's seen among the Republican field, among the Democrat field as the outsider and that's always appealing. And certainly appealing to voters who aren't, who don't follow politics as closely, or aren't as engaged so they hear messages like this and perhaps want to know more.

Joey Parker: What about the folks, including in the media who say "Bernie just can't win, we feel the Bern, he just can't win." 

Dr. McKinney: Well, what we are going to have to do as we get closer to January, early February, when the votes start taking place and we have some national polls that show that Hillary is still substantially leading, yet those national polls don't reflect state by state.  So ,we will see in Iowa, we will see in New Hampshire, can Bernie sanders turn his momentum into a vote in those particular states.

Joey Parker: We know you'll be watching it, we will be watching it and hopefully we'll have you on the next round.  Dr. McKinney, thank you for joining us.

Dr. McKinney: Very good, thank you.


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