A good night for Clin­ton — and her ri­vals

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - Dan Balz THE SUN­DAY TAKE dan.balz@wash­post.com

CEDARRAPIDS, IOWA— The first gath­er­ing of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates played al­most ac­cord­ing to script here Fri­day night. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton stood above the field but did not dom­i­nate. Bernie San­ders dis­played the pas­sion that has made him such a fa­vorite of the left. And Martin O’Malley’s speech got a re­cep­tion that be­lied his ane­mic poll num­bers.

The se­rial speeches by Clin­ton, San­ders and O’Malley— who were joined in the pro­gram by fel­low con­tenders Lin­coln Chafee and Jim Webb— also high­lighted the left­ward shift of the Demo­cratic Party un­der Pres­i­dent Obama and the de­gree to which that move­ment is con­tin­u­ing dur­ing the con­test for the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Clin­ton, who spoke with the aid of a teleprompter, was fiery, funny and sharply par­ti­san. It was a red-meat speech de­liv­ered to an au­di­ence ea­ger for her to de­liver it. She took lit­tle no­tice of her Demo­cratic op­po­nents and con­cen­trated her at­tacks on the op­po­si­tion party.

She noted that Repub­li­cans have fresh faces run­ning for pres­i­dent but de­nounced the GOP as a party mired in the past and wed­ded to poli­cies that have not worked ex­cept for the wealth­i­est in so­ci­ety.

On eco­nom­ics, she warned that the GOP can­di­dates want to re­turn to the tax-cut­ting poli­cies of pre­vi­ous Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions. “Trickle-down eco­nom­ics has to be one of the worst ideas of the 1980s,” she said. “It is right up there with New Coke, shoul­der pads and big hair. I lived through it— and there are pho­to­graphs. And we’re not go­ing back to that.”

That wasn’t her only hair ref­er­ence. When she turned to Don­ald Trump, it went like this: “Fi­nally, a can­di­date whose hair gets more at­ten­tion than mine.” Then the hu­mor stopped, as she added that there is “noth­ing funny about the hate he’s spew­ing” to­ward im­mi­grants. She called it shame­ful and ridiculed the other GOP can­di­dates for be­ing slow to de­nounce Trump’s words.

The for­mer sec­re­tary of state and sen­a­tor from New York at­tacked for­mer Florida gover­nor Jeb Bush for his com­ments on part-time work. She hit at Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker for re­strict­ing re­pro­duc­tive rights in his state, say­ing the vot­ers should say no to politi­cians “who shame and blame” women. She even went af­ter Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad for ve­to­ing spend­ing on men­tal health and got one of the big­gest ova­tions of the night.

If once she seemed ten­ta­tive about talk­ing about her­self and her fam­ily, she no longer is. She talked as she has done in this cam­paign about the aban­don­ment her mother en­dured as a child. She said be­com­ing a grand­mother was “trans­for­ma­tional,” forc­ing one to con­sider the kind of fu­ture this gen­er­a­tion will leave for oth­ers. “And that’s why I’m never go­ing to let the Repub­li­cans rip away the progress we have made,” she said.

She said she would fight against ef­forts to go back to trickle-down eco­nom­ics and to a “Wild West on Wall Street,” to re­trench­ment on mar­riage rights or to ef­forts to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act.

She mocked Repub­li­cans who say they aren’t sci­en­tists and there­fore can’t judge whether cli­mate change is man-made. “Look, I’mnot a sci­en­tist ei­ther,” she said. “I’m just a grand­mother with two eyes and a brain, and I’mnot go­ing to let them take us back.”

She showed her will­ing­ness as well to em­brace gen­der is­sues and the prospect of be­com­ing the first fe­male pres­i­dent. Tick­ing through a se­ries of poli­cies that would help women, she noted that some would say, “There she goes again” on women’s is­sues. “Well, I’mnot go­ing to stop,” she said, “so get ready for a long cam­paign.”

San­ders’s fire

San­ders again showed he is pre­pared to go where Clin­ton won’t on eco­nomic is­sues. He called for a na­tion­wide mass move­ment against the “bil­lion­aire class” that he has made the heart of his pop­ulist in­sur­gency. No pres­i­dent, he said, can bring about the changes he says are needed “un­less there is a po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tion.”

Clin­ton at­tacks Wall Street but hardly with the vigor of San­ders. Call­ing wealth and in­come in­equal­ity the moral and po­lit­i­cal is­sues of the day, the sen­a­tor from Ver­mont iden­ti­fied his en­emy and called on Democrats to take up the fight. “The greed for the bil­lion­aire class has got to end, and we are go­ing to end it for them,” he said.

There is an old-fash­ioned pas­sion that San­ders brings to the cam­paign, and it has clearly found an au­di­ence on the left. Clin­ton’s poli­cies are pro­gres­sive but safely so; San­ders’s go be­yond. With­out nam­ing her, he drew con­trasts with Clin­ton that many in the au­di­ence clearly un­der­stood.

San­ders would raise the min­i­mum wage more than she. He op­poses the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade agree­ment. He fa­vors both a big in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram to re­build roads and bridges as well as a big public jobs pro­gram to re­duce un­em­ploy­ment among young African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics.

On health care, he would move be­yond the Af­ford­able Care Act and seek to en­act a Medi­carestyle gov­ern­ment-run sin­gle­payer sys­tem. On So­cial Se­cu­rity, he would ex­pand ben­e­fits, not cut them.

The San­ders cheer­ing sec­tion on Fri­day filled one end of the room, and the re­sponse he re­ceived was one more sign that he has found an au­di­ence within the party and, if he can keep build­ing on it, could threaten Clin­ton here and in New Hamp­shire.

O’Malley’s elo­quence

The sur­prise of the night might have been O’Malley, the for­mer Mary­land gover­nor and ex-mayor of Bal­ti­more, if only be­cause he has largely been dealt out of the nar­ra­tive of the cur­rent Demo­cratic con­test. He had hoped to be­come the al­ter­na­tive to Clin­ton— only to see San­ders take up that space. Nowhe lan­guishes far be­hind. But he showed he has a mes­sage, too.

His speech was a ver­sion of San­ders’s mes­sage but with a dif­fer­ent style and elo­quence. San­ders’s style is di­rect and blunt. O’Malley’s rhetoric and ca­dence lift in other ways, and many times he brought the whole au­di­ence out of their seats, cheer­ing.

“I’mnot the only Demo­cratic can­di­date for pres­i­dent who holds pro­gres­sive val­ues,” he said. “But I amthe only can­di­date for pres­i­dent with 15 years of ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.” He said he of­fered the party “ac­tion not words.”

He agrees with San­ders on min­i­mum wage, trade and So­cial Se­cu­rity. He wants a ma­jor ini­tia­tive to re­build ur­ban Amer­ica. He at­tacks the “bul­lies of Wall Street” with just as much en­thu­si­asm and edge.

“We must pros­e­cute fi­nan­cial crimes, and if a bank is too big to fail, too big to jail and too big to man­age, then it’s too damn big and it needs to be bro­ken up be­fore it breaks us up,” he said to cheers and ap­plause.

Chafee and Webb

Chafee and Webb pro­vided the evening’s book­ends, cu­riosi­ties to many in the au­di­ence and so far barely reg­is­ter­ing in the con­scious­ness of party ac­tivists.

Chafee, the for­mer sen­a­tor and Rhode Is­land gover­nor, spoke for less than seven min­utes, de­nounc­ing Repub­li­can for­eign pol­icy as “failed, ar­ro­gant, uni­lat­eral, bel­li­cose.” He added: “We need to re­ject once and for all the bel­liger­ent ad­vo­cates of con­flict.”

Webb was no­table for declar­ing his dif­fer­ences with Obama on the newly ne­go­ti­ated nu­clear agree­ment with Iran. Seek­ing to set him­self apart from oth­ers, the for­mer sen­a­tor noted that he is the only can­di­date elected statewide in Vir­ginia “with a union card, two Pur­ple Hearts and three tat­toos.”

Repub­li­cans have had many such fo­rums this year. For the Democrats, Fri­day was the first op­por­tu­nity to see their can­di­dates in the same room. Clin­ton de­liv­ered a rous­ing and pol­ished speech, but San­ders and O’Malley showed there is ap­petite for an even harder-edge pop­ulist mes­sage among party ac­tivists. That will pro­vide the ten­sion as the Demo­cratic con­test evolves in the com­ing months.

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