By Elijah Lutz, Staff Writer

As a Democrat, last night was a real breath of fresh air to see a debate without Donald Trump’s usual accompanying circus show. That being said, the Democratic debate was not lacking in its share of tension and flare. The five candidates on the debate stage ranged in varying degrees with respect to their beliefs, campaign platform and agenda, causing inevitable head-butting now and then. A common theme shared among them, however, is the desire to help the middle and lower class Americans, and ensure greater equality in both economic and social standards.

First in the polls, and taking center stage in the debate, was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who touted her record as First Lady, US Senator from New York and Secretary of State as substantial experience that would prepare her for the job of the Presidency. Clinton, who could arguably be called one of the greatest politicians in the nation, was called out on her indecisiveness on issues, and her apparent trend of “changing her position as her audience changes.” She rebutted this by stating that she, like many before her, has learned over time and changed her opinions for the better. Throughout the night, Secretary Clinton responded to each question firmly, and assuredly, standing up to those who have attacked her and rival her. At times, she seemed too robotic or scripted, but when thinking off her feet and without a prepared answer, we finally saw a better, more aggressive (and progressive!) version of her. That is the Clinton that many supporters fell in love with in the first place.

Next to Clinton was Senator Bernie Sanders, the surprising second-place candidate and by far the most liberal of all the candidates. The self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” stood adamant that he is a legitimate candidate, and can win as a socialist with the support of those who want to see action in the areas like universal health care and free college tuition. Sanders faced fierce criticism for his views and history in government at times throughout the night but remained energetic and strong in his responses. Sanders had the most notable quote of the evening, stating that the American people were “sick and tired of hearing about (Clinton’s) D–N emails.” He too had his faults in performance, being caught off guard early on when asked to respond to an answer concerning Putin, and struggling to form one.

On Clinton’s other side was former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is polling in third (or fourth if you include Vice President Joe Biden) at a mere one percent. Governor O’Malley surprised me with the strength of his responses, and the content of his answers. He used his work as Governor of Maryland, and his record as such, to his advantage in supporting his plan and ideas. However, he had the potential to do far better than he did and wasted the chance to get his name out and make a concentrated effort to try and bring competition to Sanders or Clinton.

Former Senator Jim Webb and former Governor Lincoln Chafee were on the ends of each side of the podiums, both polling under one percent. While both made a valiant effort to make their case to the Democratic Party and the American people, they didn’t seem to fit in on the debate stage. Lincoln Chafee was called out on his party change, once being a Republican, before becoming an Independent, then becoming a Democrat only two years ago. Chafee responded to this by stating that his ideals have remained the same, and it was the party that left him, not he who left the party. Webb, who was once the Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, had arguably the most moderate, almost conservative, views of the candidates. He was challenged on his unusual stance on gun control (for a Democrat) as well as his stance on affirmative action and race issues. Both candidates struggled to keep up with the top three, and may prove to be what makes or breaks their campaigns.

In conclusion, it is a difficult decision to make when deciding who “won” the debate. The reality is that no candidate is perfect, and each has his or her strength and weaknesses. Overall, it is my opinion that Bernie Sanders had the strongest showing of the night, with Hillary Clinton coming in a very, very close second. While Clinton excelled in her responses, and may have had some of the best answers, in the long run, Sanders consistently had the passion and energy that Clinton, at times, lacked. Sanders defended his positions, remained faithful to his beliefs and above all he proved that he is, in fact, an electable candidate, the biggest hurdle he faces as a democratic socialist. By doing that, Sanders came out the most successful in the first Democratic debate.