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What We Learned From Thursday’s Democratic Debate

The CNN forum was heated as the primary race heads into New York

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders debate at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York on Thursday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders debate at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York on Thursday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The two Democratic candidates sparred more contentiously in Thursday’s CNN debate in Brooklyn ahead of the New York primary, though some Democratic political operatives said the content of the debate was nothing new.  

The April 19 primary has become a showdown between the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. To Sanders and his supporters, the state is an opportunity to grow his momentum after winning eight of the last nine nominating contests.  

Despite those wins, Sanders has struggled to close Clinton’s sizable edge in pledged delegates — the former secretary of state still leads by more than 200.  

Clinton has led, sometimes by as much as double digits, in recent polls from the Empire State. A victory there would likely go far in quieting Sanders’s insurgent candidacy.  

Here’s what political strategists and analysts thought of the debate and the race ahead:  

Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way
: “I don’t think any minds were changed tonight. The candidates made the same points we’ve heard over the past months, only louder and angrier. There is a danger for Democrats, however, if the tenor of the debate continues to worsen. Sanders has virtually no shot of securing the nomination under any realistic scenario. So what he is now doing only hurts the nominee going forward. He and his advisors have to decide if they are going to be hopeful Bernie or incendiary Bernie. For the sake of the party he has not seen fit to join, I’m rooting for hopeful Bernie.”  

Achim Bergmann, Democratic strategist who lives in upstate New York
: “I suspect New York will be close. Hillary should win western New York and downstate but Bernie will do well upstate because the primary voters here tend to have more of a progressive edge even as the surrounding area is more moderate to conservative. Bernie appears to be spending heavily on TV in the smaller markets.”  

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List:
“Tonight we saw a clear contrast between the two candidates on stage. Hillary Clinton is battle-tested and has a clear plan to break down barriers, improve people’s lives, and keep our country safe. Bernie Sanders remains unable to answer the tough questions and offers no road map on how he plans to deliver on his idealistic proposals. As the most qualified candidate on either side of the aisle in this race, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who can take on Donald Trump or any other Republican nominee. The stakes couldn’t be higher for women and families, and after tonight’s debate, there is no question that Hillary Clinton is the leader we need in the White House.”  

Daniella Gibbs Léger, former special assistant in the Obama administration
: “I thought it was more heated than other debates, but unlike what you see on the GOP side, very substantive.”  

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chair
: “This was a lively, engaging debate and it’s clear that both of our Democratic candidates are ready to fight on behalf of the American people. Democrats can be proud of their candidates and of this substantive debate. Our candidates aren’t afraid to take tough questions and offer strong and well thought-out answers that are worthy of the American people. The contrast with the ongoing Republican circus couldn’t be clearer. Our debates have all been spirited, not slanderous; energetic, not angry; and principled, not ideological, and tonight was no exception.”  

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