Although it was the first debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, Tuesday's debate on CNN was most notable to LGBT viewers in how the candidates differed from their Republican counterparts. There was no talk of defending the right of Christian business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples, no derisive remarks about allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and no side-swipes against openly gay elected officials.
Instead, two of the five candidates mentioned support for LGBT people in their opening remarks. And openly gay CNN news moderator Anderson Cooper brought up an LGBT issue with his very first question.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley noted that, as governor, he helped pass marriage equality. In his closing speech, he said young people do not want to "deny rights to gay couples."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her opening remarks that "there is too much inequality," including the "continuing discrimination against the LGBT community."
Later in the debate, when asked to defend his having changed his party affiliation twice, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee stated bluntly that he has been like "a block of granite" on issues —including "marriage equality."
Marriage equality got prominent attention with moderator Cooper's first question when he aired a concern that some voters have with Clinton: that she adopts positions on some political issues "based on political expediency."
"You were against same-sex marriage. Now you're for it," said Cooper. "You defended President Obama's immigration policies. Now you say they are too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozens of times. Now, last week, you're against it. Will you say anything to get elected?"
Clinton said she has been "very consistent" but does "absorb new information."
"I have always fought for the same values and principles, but like most human beings, including those of us who run for office, I do absorb new information. I do look at what's happening in the world," said Clinton.
Cooper challenged her further, noting that in New Hampshire, she told voters she had strong "progressive values" but in Ohio, she described herself as "being kind of moderate and center."
"Do you change your political identity based on who you're talking to?" asked Cooper.
"No," said Clinton. "I think that, like most people that I know, I have a range of views, but they are rooted in my values and my experience. And I don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment."
Much of the two-hour debate was taken up with discussion of many tough issues: gun control, immigration, Syria, Russia, Benghazi, corporate bailouts, college affordability, and racism, to name a few.
Polls taken just days before the debate showed Clinton with a strong lead over her challengers and that seems unlikely to change based on Tuesday's debate.
A Fox News survey October 10-12 found that 45 percent of 353 people likely to vote in the Democratic caucus or primary support Clinton, compared to 25 percent for Sanders, 19 percent for Vice President Joe Biden ( who has not yet announced whether he plans to run ), one percent or less for any of the other announced candidates, and 10 percent for "Other" or "Don't Know." Similar surveys by CBS and Public Policy Polling this month found very similar results.
As important as it is to win the party's nomination, it is equally important to win the general election. And polls about how various Democratic candidates would perform against any of the leading Republican candidates casts a different picture. A RealClearPolitics.com look at surveys testing various match-ups suggests that Clinton, Biden, or Sanders could beat the current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, but Biden would have a more comfortable margin ( 11 points ) compared to Clinton ( 1.6 points ) or Sanders ( 4.3 ). Both Clinton and Biden could beat U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. But the three top Democrats are polling behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a candidate seen as more likely to win the GOP nomination.
Also troubling for the Democrats: A Fox News survey of 1,004 "registered voters" nationally between October 10 and 12 found that 40 percent said they would "more likely" vote in the Republican primary/caucus, versus 35 percent in the Democratic primary/caucus, 14 percent in neither party's events, and 11 percent undecided. Those who identified as "Independents" were leaning more heavily toward the Republican primary/caucus.
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