Manchester – Five major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination gathered in the Dana Center Monday night for a CNN special event. The event was sponsored by the Harvard Institute of Politics and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. The participants in Monday night’s town halls included Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN). Each of the candidates was given one hour to answer questions from young voters planning to participate in their states Democratic primary, and present their plan for new American leadership. Healthcare, education, and climate change dominated the conversation as candidates fielded questions about their commitments to provide a better standard of living for Americans.
The evening began with Senator Amy Klobuchar’s town hall moderated by Chris Cuomo. A three-term senator from the state of Minnesota, Klobuchar was one of the most experienced speakers of the night and referred frequently to her experience as a county attorney. She distinguished herself as one of the most moderate candidates of a crowded field of over fifteen major candidates by refusing to endorse the notion of tuition-free college as well as Senator Sanders “Medicare for All” legislation. She declared herself a “realist” who did not support radical and impractical policies but joined each of the other candidates in advocating for the Green New Deal; a measure Republicans call extreme and unrealistic. She also discussed the need to reform the criminal justice system and suggested increased use of drug courts to curb repeat drug offenses rather than lengthy prison terms. Klobuchar, when asked whether or not she would support impeachment for president Trump, she avoided the question and referred instead to the Senate’s role in the impeachment process as jurors and not prosecutors.
The second town hall with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts featured a very similar question regarding impeachment, to which the Senator responded by saying “There is no political inconvenience when it comes to the Constitution of the United States.” Warren argued that congressional leaders have a civic duty to hold the President accountable and Congress should set politics aside to do what’s right. Warren also proved herself to be an impactful candidate with her proposal to alleviate student debt for millions of Americans and make higher education tuition-free. Warren also advocated for sweeping economic reforms including her “ultra-millionaire tax” which would fund the majority of her initiatives. She cited the reluctance of lawmakers to reform the American economic system because “when your ears are stuffed with money it’s hard to hear.” Senator Warren’s recollection of her mission during her Senate campaign to quite simply make an impact and inspire young women to be leaders also resonated with the audience. She said that during events and parades she would seek out young girls and women, kneel down and say to them “Hello, I’m Elizabeth and I’m running for Senate because that’s what girls do.” Overall, Warren set the tone for the night as each of the following candidates echoed her sentiments about the need to support middle and working-class Americans and provide more educational opportunities for students.
Senator Bernie Sanders followed Warren with an equally fiery rendition of his main talking points: economic reform, Medicare for all, and climate justice. As one of the most anticipated candidates of the night, Sanders received resounding praise when he said: “The United States is a climate leader, but we’re leading in the wrong direction.” However, audience members and political pundits criticized Sanders’ comments regarding voting rights for incarcerated Americans. When asked whether or not Sanders believed that perpetrators of sexual assault or the Boston Marathon Bomber should receive the right to vote, he gave a response which left some in the audience upset. He said that all Americans deserve the right to vote, and it is important to the future of our democracy that we protect the ability to participate in society. Following the event Bentley Warren, a Saint Anselm Sophomore, commented on Sanders remarks by saying “Sanders surprisingly proposed that incarcerated individuals deserve the right to vote while imprisoned, including sex offenders and domestic terrorists, which I believe was a rather unpopular move on his part and will become an attacking point for opponents like Pete Buttigieg.” He was right; when asked if he agreed with Sanders later on in the night, Buttigieg criticized the move and argued that while in prison felons should not be allowed to vote, but upon their reintroduction to society, their rights should be restored.
Sander’s also pushed back on Senator Warren’s claim that the House should move to impeach President Trump. Sanders was more focused on a bigger picture; “If for the next year all the Congress is talking about is ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ and ‘Mueller, Mueller, Mueller’ and we’re not talking about health care and raising the minimum wage to a living wage and we’re not talking about climate change and sexism and racism and homophobia and the issues that concern ordinary Americans — I worry that works to Trump’s advantage.”
Senator Kamala Harris of California highlighted the opposition of Republican congressional leaders and the low likelihood that impeachment would pass in the Senate. She said that people needed to be “realistic about what might be the end result. But that doesn’t mean the process shouldn’t take place.” Harris’ second most notable answer came when asked whether or not she supported monetary reparations for African Americans. She avoided answering the question directly, as did Senator Sanders, but both candidates said they would support Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill to study the effects of reparations. Audience members noticed a trend in Harris’ answers to their questions when she began to repeat the phrase “I think that’s a conversation we need to have.” Though she did avoid some questions, Harris’ managed to outline a plan for her presidency focusing mostly on Medicare, climate and criminal justice reform.
A town hall with Mayor of South Bend Indiana Pete Buttigieg moderated by Anderson Cooper concluded the night. Buttigieg was unique in many respects among the night’s candidates and the audience took notice. “It was clear that Mayor Pete Buttigieg stood out as the crowd favorite for his direct and simple answers,” said Chris Millet a Freshman at Saint Anselm “[he] did not sound like a politician as he did not use the same rhetoric as the other four candidates did.” When asked whether or not he believed President Trump should be impeached after reading the Mueller report he stated plainly, “I think it’s pretty clear he deserves impeachment.” Moderator Anderson Cooper pointed out Buttigieg’s lack of a clear plan and platform. Mayor Buttigieg responded by saying that he believed he’d made his positions clear on a variety of topics, and the absence of a platform section on his website did not make him a candidate who lacked beliefs.
This event provided Saint Anselm students with a unique opportunity to engage with candidates in a discussion of the issues important to young Americans. Candidates continuously labeled young voters as one of the most progressive, passionate, and politically active generations in recent history. Junior Abby Roden said, “Youth voices are so often overshadowed or underestimated, it was nice to see my generations questions at the forefront of discussions for a change.” Students walked away from the five-hour event with a better understanding of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, and a stronger appreciation for the democratic process. Saint Anselm has created a standing tradition of being a very politically active campus, and students should be proud of such a tradition.