NBC, YouTube, Congressional Black Caucus Institute
Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell
The fourth Democratic primary debate was held in Charleston, South Carolina on January 17, 2016 at the Gallard Center. It was hosted by NBC News and YouTube, with NBC journalist Lester Holt and NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell serving as moderators.
The contest was between the frontrunner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, close rival Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and distant trailer former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. The stakes for this debate were high. Not only did it take place less than two weeks before the crucial Iowa caucuses (and was in fact the last Democratic debate before that important showdown), but despite the fact that Hillary Clinton went in maintaining her national lead over Bernie Sanders, she had lost considerable ground to him in the mission-critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire, so that the Senator was now breaking even with her in the former and even modestly leading her in the latter.
Perhaps because of this, Clinton and Sanders did clash with noticeably greater intensity and pointed language than they have in previous Democratic debates – which can almost always be relied upon to be feature less spectacular bouts between candidates than their Republican counterparts. Clinton, for instance, took an early opportunity to jab at her opponent's record on gun control, pointing out his disappointing votes on the issue as a Senator, while Sanders returned fire by criticizing Clinton's campaign contributions from a list of wealthy donors. Nevertheless, the candidates kept it mostly civil, and seemed to maintain respect for one another, without discourse into outright petty name-calling.
Aside from gun control and campaign finance, issues covered tonight included police racism, health care and the Affordable Care Act, and military spending. The moderators posed most of the questions, but a few were offered by popular YouTube personalities, including Connor Franta and Marques Brownlee.
Closing statements saw Clinton characterizing herself as a president able to address not only large, international problems, but small ones down to the local state level. Sanders returned to the discussion about campaign contributions and laws concerning them, perhaps as a subtle jab at Clinton, while O'Malley – who struggled to get attention from the moderators – spoke of achieving national unity.