(THE PICKET)—Shepherdstown’s Opera House came alive Tuesday night as the Eastern Panhandle Young Democrats put on a watch event for the debate between the Democratic Party’s five presidential candidates.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Sen. and Gov. Lincoln Chafee squared off in Las Vegas in the party’s first debate, following the two the Republican Party has had.
The crowd at the Opera House was solidly pro-Sanders, wildly applauding as the senator was introduced at the start of the debate. The EPYD put out five donation jars, inviting attendees to put money in the jar marked with the candidate of their choice. The bowl representing Sanders was the only one visibly filled. The passionate crowd grew restless as the debate grew near, culminating in an anguished cry of “commercial!” from the back when CNN cut to break following the national anthem.
Once the main event itself was underway, candidates were tasked with explaining issues that some say could render them unelectable. Chafee, when questioned about his past as a Republican and independent, called himself a “block of granite,” asserting that the Republican Party left him, not the other way around.
Sanders had his pro-gun past brought up, which he countered with his “D-” rating from the National Rifle Association. Clinton slammed Sanders for not being tough enough on guns, arguing that it is time to “stand up to the NRA.”
Keeping the focus on guns, Webb, once given an “A” rating from the NRA, told the audience that the government “must respect (the) tradition” of gun use for self-defense.
Clinton, asked about her upcoming testimony before a Congressional committee concerning her response in the wake of the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, called the panel “an arm of the Republican National Committee” and a simple political ploy.
On foreign policy, Sanders came out against military action abroad, calling the conflict in Syria a “quagmire in a quagmire,” and in a fit of pique said he would not make Syria another Iraq, calling former President George W. Bush’s initiation of military involvement in Iraq the “worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.”
On the economy, Sanders called for a $15 an hour minimum wage and all public universities to become tuition-free to reduce income inequality. Clinton said the “economy does better with a Democrat in the White House.”
Sanders came out in favor of marijuana legalization when asked about a 2016 ballot initiative that could see legalization come to Nevada. “Too many lives are being destroyed for non-violent offenses,” he said. Clinton said she is still not ready to take a position on the legalization of marijuana.
“I really hope that O’Malley can bring it because he’s the only one with 15 years of executive experience. Governors know how to work with the judicial and the legislative branches. I really hope he does well, and people understand who Jim Webb is, and not so much focus on just Clinton or Sanders,” said Michael Wuest, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in history.
“Hillary Clinton needs to… stop making it about the fact that she’s a woman. I’m a feminist and I believe in having a woman president, but you can’t base your entire platform on ‘I’m going to be the first woman president.’ I’m tired of the oligarchy in our government because it’s being passed between Bush and Clinton. I really feel like… Martin O’Malley did a really good job tonight, I like him a lot, but Bernie Sanders is the way to go. Feel the Bern!” said Rebecca Kamp, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in political science.