The clash between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over a voter data breach?
“Who cares? An issue that’s forgotten in 48 hours,” said one Iowa Democrat.
That dismissive opinion is widely shared among Democrats and Republicans surveyed for the POLITICO Caucus, our panel of the top activists, strategists and operatives in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
The revelations that a senior Sanders campaign staffer — and potentially several others — had breached Clinton’s proprietary voter files set Washington abuzz Friday, with the Democratic National Committee cutting off Sanders’ access to his entire voter database in response. The Sanders team called the move an overreaction that proved the party was favoring Clinton and took the matter to court Friday afternoon before the DNC ultimately allowed Sanders to regain access to his data.
But the fight quickly became an afterthought during Saturday night’s Democratic debate after Sanders apologized for the episode and pledged to sanction any other staffers involved. Clinton quickly accepted his apology and agreed that the campaign should refocus on policy issues.
Two-thirds of insiders — in both parties — say that exchange all but ensured the issue has lost its bite and that voters were never going to care much about an issue as esoteric as campaign data anyway.
“Average Americans don’t give two s—ts about voter files,” said a South Carolina Democrat.
The Sanders campaign initially framed the issue as another data point in his broader argument against the DNC, contending that the national party was not operating as a neutral player during the primary and was instead favoring the Clinton campaign. But the Vermont senator’s softer approach during the debate defanged the issue.
“He handled the controversy masterfully. Took responsibility, took action and apologized. Case closed,” said a Nevada Republican.
The debate itself seemed almost an afterthought to Caucus insiders. Those who watched resoundingly declared Clinton the winner, largely by default because neither Sanders nor former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared to dent her front-runner status. The candidates agreed often and even at their most contentious avoided cutting too deeply.
“She is a mile ahead and [Sanders] made up no ground,” said an Iowa Democrat.
“They were all strong but that means that Martin and Bernie did not get the knockout punch they needed,” added a New Hampshire Democrat. “In that situation only Hillary benefits.”
Clinton entered the night with as firm a grip on the nomination as she’s had the entire cycle. Polls consistently show her with an edge of more than 20 points nationally, though Sanders remains competitive in Iowa and ahead in New Hampshire. Clinton sought to undermine Sanders repeatedly by questioning the cost of his ambitious proposals, like single-payer health care. She needled him on gun issues, noting that he “has moved” on the issue toward her position, two months after she first criticized him for not sufficiently supporting gun control measures.
Just 10 percent of debate-watching insiders said she lost, and no Democrats mentioned the moments that Republicans were quickest to pounce on: her assessment that the United States is “where we need to be” in the fight against ISIL, despite polls showing Americans deeply dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s approach. Nor did any mention the uncomfortable few seconds in which Clinton’s lectern was empty after a commercial break. Most insiders, on the other hand, agreed O’Malley lost by failing to stand out.
“O’Malley is beginning to look desperate, rushing his lines and swinging more broadly in his attacks, hoping to hit something, anything,” said an Iowa Democrat.
Sanders, whose performance insiders panned after last month’s debate for seeming uncomfortable on foreign policy, earned better reviews this time but still seemed lost in Clinton’s shadow.
“Bernie upped his game on foreign policy,” said a Nevada Democrat, who nevertheless called Clinton the winner.
These are the members of the POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated this week:
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Sara Craig, Jerry Crawford, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Garth Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
South Carolina: Andrew Collins, Antjuan Seawright, Barry Wynn, Bob McAlister, Boyd Brown, Brady Quirk-Garvan, Bruce Haynes, Catherine Templeton, Chad Connelly, Chip Felkel, Cindy Costa, Clay Middleton, David Wilkins, Dick Harpootlian, Donna Hicks, Drea Byars, Ed McMullen, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Ellen Weaver, Erin McKee, Glenn McCall, Inez Tenenbaum, Isaiah Nelson, Jaime R. Harrison, James Smith, Jason Perkey, Jay W. Ragley, Jim Hodges, Jimmy Williams, Joe Erwin, Joel Sawyer, John Brisini, Kevin Bishop, Kim Wellman, Laurin Manning, Le Frye, Luke Byars, Matt Moore, Mikee Johnson, Morgan Allison, Nse’ Ekpo, Phil Noble, Scott Farmer, Tony Denny, Trey Walker, Tyler Jones, Walter Whetsell, Warren Tompkins, Will Folks
Nevada: Adam Khan, Andres Ramirez, Andrew Diss, Barbara Buckley, Bob Cavazos, Brendan Summers, Chip Evans, Chuck Muth, Dan Hart, Daniel Stewart, Ed Williams, Emmy Ruiz, Erven T. Nelson, Greg Bailor, Heidi Wixom, Jack St. Martin, James Smack, Jay Gertsema, Jeremy Hughes, Jim DeGraffenreid, Jon Ralston, Kristen Orthman, Laura Martin, Linda Cavazos, Lindsey Jydstrup, Mac Abrams, Mari St. Martin, Marla Turner, Megan Jones, Michael McDonald, Michelle White, Mike Slanker, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Oscar Goodman, Pat Hickey, Paul Smith, Pete Ernaut, Peter Koltak, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Roberta Lange, Ryan Erwin, Ryan Hamilton, Sam Lieberman, Scott Scheid, Yvanna Cancela, Zach Hudson
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.
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