Clinton, Sanders Come out on Top at First Democratic Primary Debate

Five candidates took the stage Tuesday night in Las Vegas, Nevada to participate in the CNN Facebook Democratic Debate, which spanned a variety of topics.

As many strategists expected would be the case, front runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came out on top.

“Hillary and Bernie had a very good night,” said Simon Rosenberg, President and Founder of NDN, a Democratic think tank in Washington, DC. Rosenberg worked on two presidential campaigns, including the 1992 Clinton War Room, and says he is backing Hillary Clinton for president.

“Both were better than many people thought that they were going to be,” Rosenberg said. “Hillary had some really good fluid moments…Bernie had a bigger mountain to climb, and he climbed it.” takes a look at the leading Democrats’ stances on key issues.

Foreign Policy: Russia, Syria and Benghazi

Clinton said that Putin becoming Russia’s president changed the country’s relationship with the U.S. She stressed the need for the U.S. to stand up to his “bullying” and involvement in Syria.

Bernie added that Putin will “regret” what he is doing in Syria. Also on Syria, Sanders said he will do everything he can to make sure the U.S. does not get involved in the way that it did in Iraq.

While both candidates said during the debate that they did not want American troops on the ground in Syria, Clinton did push for a no-fly zone while Sanders advocated against it.

“What I believe and why I have advocated that the no-fly zone -- which of course would be in a coalition -- be put on the table is because I'm trying to figure out what leverage we have to get Russia to the table,” said Clinton. “You know, diplomacy is not about getting to the perfect solution. It's about how you balance the risks.”

When asked if she should have seen the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya coming, Clinton argued that the Middle Eastern country was desperate for help at the time.

“Unless you believe the United States should not send diplomats to any place that is dangerous, which I do not, then when we send them forth, there is always the potential for danger and risk.”

At the close of the topic, each candidate was asked what they see as the biggest threat to our national security. Clinton argued that it is nuclear weapons and material falling into the wrong hands, while Sanders chose the “global crisis” of climate change.

Economy: Capitalism, Wall Street and Income Inequality

On the issue of the economy, no time was wasted in questioning Sanders about his status as a Socialist.

“What Democratic Socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1% in this country own almost 90% -- almost -- own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%,” said Sanders. “That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57% of all new income is going to the top 1%.”

Clinton largely agreed, pointing out that every now and then America needs to save capitalism from itself.

“I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have…it's our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok and doesn't cause the kind of inequities we're seeing in our economic system.”

In terms of actual economic policies, Sanders advocated for rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and making pay equal for men and women.

Clinton touched upon her five-point economic plan and declared that it is more comprehensive than Sanders’.

“We have to deal with the problem that the banks are still too big to fail,” she said. “We can never let the American taxpayer and middle class families ever have to bail out the kind of speculative behavior that we saw.”

Clinton also reflected on her time as a senator in New York and said she went to Wall Street before the big crash of 2008 to try and rein the big banks in.

Both candidates stressed the importance of making all public colleges and universities tuition-free, implementing mandated paid family leave and enhancing the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security.

Addressing Other Issues

The debate touched upon many other topics including race, immigration and the environment.

One memorable exchange occurred when Clinton was asked about the ongoing controversy regarding her use of e-mail accounts on a privately maintained server. She said that it was a mistake, has accepted responsibility and will testify about it before Congress.

“But tonight, I want to talk not about my e-mails, but about what the American people want from the next president of the United States,” she said, which was followed by a round of raucous applause.

Sanders added, “I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”

Both candidates acknowledged President Obama's accomplishments in office, but said they would improve upon them if elected. Sanders went so far as to say the U.S. needs to experience a “political revolution.”

“This is a group of people who want to make the country better, and they had a serious discussion on how to do it,” said Rosenberg. “The pessimism that you heard in the Republican debates is not where the country is. They [Democratic candidates] are far more in touch with the tone of America.”

Prior to the debate, the latest Fox News national poll showed Clinton leading among Democratic primary voters at 45% and Bernie Sanders at 25%. Lincoln Chafee, Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb each received 1% or less.