WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged the consensus leader following the first Democratic presidential debate, according to a crowd gathered for a debate watch party hosted by D.C. Council member Anita Bonds.
Her attack on fellow candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ gun control stance, and her quick-witted responses to questions about her email controversy, support of past military actions and trade deals showed strong debate skills, people said who gathered at Barcode, a restaurant in northwest Washington.
“I really like Clinton; I think it’s time for women to step up to the plate,” said Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic Party and member of the executive board of the Democratic National Committee.
“I look at Clinton because of her vast experience and her toughness. She has a record of being able to work with Republicans. We need across the aisle cooperation. We’re very polarized. Nothing in Congress is moving forward.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sens. Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb also appeared on the debate, but brought little attention from the crowd of about 60 people.
Bonds thought Clinton delivered a strong performance.
“Vice President Biden could be very encouraged by what we saw tonight,” she said. “We have a capable leader on the horizon in Secretary Clinton. If that was a point of worry for him, he doesn’t have to worry anymore.”
Bonds said she was not won over by Sanders defense of his mixed voting record on gun control.
“He makes it complicated,” she said. “It’s a simple matter; do we or do we not need to get rid of guns?”
Her sentiment was echoed other Democrats who are looking for more aggressive gun control laws in the wake of several recent school shootings.
Janice Davis, president of the National Federation of Democratic Women, was one.
“I felt Sanders was a little inconsistent,” Davis said. “I couldn’t deal with him on gun control.”
Another issue at the forefront of debate was racial and socioeconomic disparities adversely affecting African-Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement has been a national focus due to the alarming number of African-Americans killed at the hands of law enforcement.
Ed Potillo, vice-chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, called for stronger plans of action from the Democratic candidates with regard to racial disparities and said he liked some of Sanders’ responses.
“My ears perked up when Sanders spoke about education being a civil right,” Potillo said. “African-American youth need a fighting chance, “but to be honest, I don’t think any one of them has come out with a true program addressing disparities between African-American treatment versus their white counterparts. It’s a real issue that requires real discussion.”
Potillo said he wants the candidates to take bolder steps to affect change.
“They really need to hit the issue hard with a strong goal program,” he said. “It’s going to take courage, so lets see who has it. You’ve got to show us. Put it in writing. Because that is what will affect people in D.C.”