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What You Missed in the First Democratic Primary Debate

GIF created using footage from CNN

The Democratic party’s five major presidential candidates gathered in Las Vegas for their first debate Tuesday night.

But for all intents and purposes — as summed up by POLITICO and a good chunk of the mainstream media — it may as well have been billed as “the Hillary and Bernie Show.”

The pair -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, in case you're not on a first-name basis -- bantered on a range of issues: gun policy, the merits of emulating Denmark and financial regulation, among other issues.

But they united on at least one front: They’d both like everyone to stop talking so much about Clinton’s “damn emails,” please.

Here are some more highlights on how the night played out. (The full transcript is available via CNN, the network that carried the debate.)

Who stole the spotlight?

Sanders and Clinton led the night in terms of buzzy exchanges and speaking time — much to the chagrin of one of their fellow candidates, former U.S. Sen Jim Webb.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the breakdown of speaking time was as follows: Clinton squeezed in some 5,452 words, Sanders spoke 4,838, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke 3,324, Webb spoke 2,766 (but, as the Journal pointed out, “about 150 were gripes about not getting a fair shake”) and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee eked out about 1,641.

Where did the candidates clash?

The debate elicited some clear contrasts between the two front-runners (and, occasionally, the other candidates on stage). Clinton, in one of the sharper exchanges of the night, told the room Sanders wasn’t tough enough on gun control. Sanders suggested Clinton wouldn’t be as strong as he is on regulating the big banks. O’Malley (and Chafee) challenged Clinton on her Iraq war vote. Chafee challenged Clinton on her looming email scandals. Webb, for his part, was blunt in following up a call from Sanders for a "political revolution": "Bernie," he said, "I don't think the revolution's going to come."

One question also revealed Edward Snowden's status as a particularly divisive figure within the Democratic field. As recapped by WIRED, Chafee reiterated his support for the former CIA employee (“I would bring him home,” Chafee said. “The courts have ruled that the American government was acting illegally.”) Other candidates (like Clinton and O'Malley) were less forgiving.

What moments got people talking?

For Chafee, his somewhat-fumbling answers — particularly when it came to his vote on Glass-Steagall— became his biggest storyline.

For Webb, some viewers were taken aback by his answer to a question about an enemy he was most proud of:

"I'd have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he's not around right now to talk to."

For O’Malley, confrontations with Clinton (over foreign policy) and the DNC chairwoman (over the debate schedule) gave him a chance to step into the spotlight.

For Sanders, a defense of Clinton and a plea to stop talking about those emails ended up being his most-talked about moment.

For Clinton, her most attention-grabbing answer of the night seems to have been her shortest: “No.

As with other debates, there was plenty of outside commentary.

The Democrats didn't hold back during Republican forums earlier in the year, and their political opponents were eager to return that favor. A handful of Republican candidates — including Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio — offered real-time rebuttals to their Democratic counterparts. Other leading Republican candidates who emerged as frontrunners in part because of their own debate performances, like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, were noticeably silent.

And then there was this final bit of wisdom, from an unlikely political source.

Casey is a Senior News Editor for NHPR. You can contact her with questions or feedback at
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