“Who is he?”: The candidates onstage NOT named Clinton or Sanders

October 14, 2015

For millions of voters, Tuesday’s debate was their first chance to get to know the three Democratic candidates who have received the least media coverage – indeed, in all three cases, the most frequent mid-debate Google searches involving their names were simply some variant on “Who is he?”.

So what did voters see?

There was Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland until earlier this year, who appeared slick and largely unflustered, the only candidate to make a point of repeatedly turning to whichever camera was on him and staring straight down the lens to speak, like a president or a news anchor.

He touted his successes in making guns harder to acquire in his state, but his most common refrain, slipped into an answer on at least four occasions, was his goal that the United States have a “100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050.” Once, he even quickly blurted this out even after the moderator had cut him off. When pushed on the fractious relations between Baltimore’s police force and the city’s black residents, however – O’Malley was the mayor for eight years – he seemed unable to placate the moderator.

Jim Webb, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, was less sure where to look than O’Malley, and seemed aggrieved, frequently complaining that he was getting less air-time than the other candidates. “I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes,” he grumbled at one point. He distinguished himself from the others in particular by emphasizing how concerned he was by Chinese hackers targeting Americans – taking this up with China, he said, would be a top priority.

He also drew special attention to his military service in the Vietnam War and more than once invoked his wife, Hong Le Webb, as a sort of stirring immigrant tale, telling voters how she left Vietnam as a refugee who spoke no English but studied hard enough to make it to Cornell University.

A more cheerful presence was Lincoln Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island, who smiled gently through most of his answers (and chewed his lips when listening to the questions.)

Chafee presented himself as a “peacemaker” who would avoid unnecessary wars. But the thing he was most proud of in his decades-long career, he said, was that he has “had no scandals,” the suggestion being that Hillary Clinton cannot say the same thing.

Asked whether she would like to respond to the contrast Chafee was drawing, Clinton seemed not to think it worth the time: “No,” she said.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) former U.S. Senator Jim Webb, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee pose before the start of the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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