The first debate among Democratic presidential candidates is being held in Las Vegas Tuesday night. The participants are former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent; former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb; and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
The candidates closed with more solidarity than the Republicans did in their debates.
O'Malley said the Democratic debate "showed an honest search for the answers," not insults about immigrants and political opponents.
"I want to be the peacemaker," Chafee said. "I am a proven peacemaker."
Webb said he has the ability to make the hard choices as president.
"I have always been willing to take on the complicated, sometimes unpopular, issues, and work them through in order to have a solution," he said.
Clinton said she has the "tenacity and ability and the proven track record to get it done."
She said her mother taught her that "it isn't whether you get knocked down, but if you get up."
"American was knocked down" in the Great Recession, she said. "And although we made progress, we are standing, but not running the way America needs to. . . . America's best days are still ahead."
Sanders tempered his call for the most dramatic changes among the candidates.
"This is a great country, but we have many, many serious problems," he said, citing high childhood poverty and income inequality. But he said "nobody up here can face the major crises . . . until millions stand up to the millionaire class."
Each of the candidates were asked to name the enemy they were most proud of making.
Clinton said: "In addition to the NRA, the drug companies . . . the Iranians . . . probably the Republicans."
Sanders cited "Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry [are] at the top of the list of people who don't like me."
Chafee said the "coal lobby."
O'Malley said: "The National Rifle Association."
Web said, "The enemy soldier who lobbed a grenade at me, but he's not around."
Sanders blamed Republicans as "total obstructionists" in Washington and said he has a solution.
"The only way we can take on the right wing Republicans . . . is by having millions of people coming together," Sanders said.
He said voters must demand free education and other liberal measures "and giving Republicans an offer they can't refuse. . . . You vote against us, you are out of a job."
Sanders said he could see voting to legalize marijuana.
"I think we have re-think this war on drugs that has done enormous damage," Sanders said. He noted the high incarceration rate of non-violent drug offenders.
Clinton said she's still not prepared to take a position. She said more data is needed from states' experience on "recreational marijuana," although she supports the medical use of marijuana.
Clinton blamed "typical Republican scare tactics" for Congress blocking paid family leave. Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has said it is too expensive for business and that it's a form of government intervention in private business.
"We need to join the rest of the advanced world," Clinton said.
Clinton said Republicans are hypocritical by opposing paid family leave as a government overreach even though, she said, Republicans are trying to stop women from having access to abortion and their reproductive health.
"They are just fine with Big Brother doing that; I'm sick of it!" Clinton said.
Sanders called the lack of paid family leave "an embarrassment."
O'Malley called for a fully clean-energy country by 2050, the boldest of the candidates' proposals on the environment.
"We can get there as a nation, but it requires presidential leadership," he said. He said he would sign on his first day in office the executive order to move to have a fully clean electrical grid.
Webb, who supports clean coal and nuclear power, said, "We are not going to solve climate change simply with laws."
He said a global solution is needed, especially to combat pollution from China.
Sanders said climate change "is a moral issue . . . the scientists are telling us we need to move boldly."
Clinton said China and India must be part of a global effort to stem climate change.
Clinton denied she is a political "insider" because no one is more of an outsider "than a woman running for president."
"I know how to seek common ground and I know how to stand my ground," Clinton said.
O'Malley said the country needs new leaders: "I respect what Secretary Clinton and her husband have done . . . but we need new leadership."
The former first lady said she isn't relying on her name because "I can take the fight to the Republicans."
Sanders said there is a profound anger in the country with the wealthy and the politically connected running the White House.
The Democrats trod lightly about how they would be different from Obama, but they said they would not just create a third Obama term.
"I think being the first woman president would be quite a change," Clinton said. "There's a lot that I would like to do to build on the successes of President Obama . . . but also to go beyond."
Sanders said he has a lot of respect for Obama, but he also called for a bold change.
"I believe the power of corporate America . . . is so great that the only way we can truly transform America . . . is through a political revolution," Sanders said. "When millions of people begin to come together and say our government is going to work for all of us."
Clinton said she doesn't regret her vote for the Patriot Act, which enabled much more government surveillance. She blamed the Bush administration for going too far and trampling civil liberties.
"It's not easy in a democracy, but we have to keep it in mind," Clinton said.
Sanders said he would shut down the federal telephone surveillance program under the National Security Agency. "If we are a free country, we have the right to be free," he said.
Clinton said former contractor Edward Snowden shouldn't be forgiven for leaking sensitive information publicly from the NSA.
Sanders said "Snowden played a very important role" and that should be taken into consideration in any punishment or in allowing him to return to the United States.
"When you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform . . . to take people out of the shadows," Sanders said.
Clinton said she wants expanded health care for immigrant children. She said Republican candidates are "demonizing hard-working" immigrants. She said she also would support states providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
O'Malley said he would provide more health benefits to assist immigrants. "We are a nation of immigrants," O'Malley said. "I am for a generous, compassionate America that says we are all in this together." He called Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump "a carnival barker" for his plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Webb said he also would provide more health care for immigrants, but he said the borders need to be secured.
Sanders said Social Security shouldn't be cut when millions of seniors depend on it. But he said he would eliminate Social Security benefits for "millionaires" and suggested that would keep the retirement system solvent.
Sanders and Clinton highlighted their plans to make college more affordable. Sanders said a college education now means what a high school diploma meant 50 years ago and that college must be made affordable for all. Sanders would reduce financing and make other changes, while Clinton wants colleges to reduce "outrageously high" tuition costs.
Clinton also said she would have students work 10 hours a week to help reduce the cost of a college education.
Clinton would strengthen federal agencies' power to punish wrongdoing by executives on Wall Street, but she said she wouldn't separate banking from investment operations within a bank, a practice that has led to some of the financial sector's biggest failures.
"My plan is more comprehensive and frankly it's tougher" than Sanders', Clinton said. "The plan I have put forward would actually empower regulators to break up big banks if they posed a risk."
Sanders and O'Malley said they want to break up the nation's biggest banks after their actions forced massive taxpayer bailouts when the institutions were considered "too big to fail."
Sanders said "fraud is a business mode" on Wall Street. "We have got to break them up!"
Clinton said she told Wall Street to "cut it out" and end "speculative behaviors" when she was a senator for New York.
"If only you look at the big banks, you may be missing the forest for the trees," Clinton said.
"In my view, Congress doesn't regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress," Sanders said.
Chafee had accused Clinton of being too close to Wall Street, but he voted for a Wall Street bailout. He said the vote that he made was his first in the Senate. "I think you are being a little rough," Chaffee said. He said his father had just died and he just arrives in the Senate, then noted his vote wouldn't have changed the outcome.
Sanders called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, creating jobs, ending "disastrous trade" policies and providing free college education.
Sanders has called for a $15 minimum wage nationwide, part of the "great moral issue of our time." O'Malley also supports a $15 minimum wage. Clinton said a $12 minimum wage has a better chance of getting through Congress. Webb and Chafee said they want to increase the minimum wage, but neither gave a hard number.
The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour. The proposals follow criticism of income inequality in the country that states the richest 1 percent of Americans control 99 percent of the nation's income.
A Democrat at a university posed the question: whether black lives matter or all lives matter following a string of African-Americans dying in police custody.
"Black lives matter," Sanders said. "The African-American community knows that on any given day . . . their kids are going to get shot. We need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China."
Clinton said more must be done for the "lives of these children." She said early childhood education is needed. "We need a new New Deal for communities of color."
Webb said he helped lead the national debate in Senate, and Republicans are starting to follow.
"I have done the hard jobs, I have taken the risks," Webb said.
Clinton said she regrets using a private email server for official State Department communications.
"I have taken responsibility for it, I did say it was a mistake. . . . It was not the best choice," she said. But she tried to discredit the congressional committee investigating the scandal.
"This committee . . . is a partisan vehicle to drive down my poll numbers -- big surprise," she said. "I am still standing."
"Tonight I want to talk, not about my emails, but what the American people want," Clinton said.
"Let me say something that is maybe not politic," Sanders said. "But the secretary of state is right. America doesn't want to keep hearing about your damn emails. . . . Let's talk about the real issues facing America."
The crowd erupted in cheers.
Clinton has suffered a decline in support since the spring when The New York Times reported that she used a personal email server for official and personal business while heading the State Department.
Chafee said the issue was a matter of ethics.
Asked if she wanted to respond, Clinton drew cheers when she said no.
Sanders alone said the greatest threat to the United States is global warming, while the others who spoke cited combat in the Middle East. Webb also singled out China as the biggest threat.
The Democrats seek differing ways to reduce fossil fuel emissions to counter global warming that they say threatens to further raise sea levels by melting polar ice caps and unleash more devastating storms.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran, wouldn't criticize his friend, Sanders, for being a conscientious objector and activist against the war.
"Everybody makes their decisions," Webb said. "I respect that. It will be for the voters to decide if Sen. Sanders should be president."
Sanders responded by thanking Webb for his military service.
"I believe from the bottom of my heart that war should be the last resort," Sanders said.
Clinton defended her actions as secretary of state in Libya, despite the attack on the U.S. Embassy by militant Muslims in 2012.
"When we send them [ambassadors] forth, there is always danger," Clinton said. But she said the work to bring a more democratic government to Libya was successful.
Webb said there was unnecessary risk in Libya and he blamed President Barack Obama.
Clinton faces a congressional hearing on her handling of the Benghazi attack while she was secretary of state. But recently it was revealed that some Republicans had plotted to push the Benghazi issue to hurt Clinton's poll numbers.
Webb said neither Syria nor Russia is the biggest concern.
"The greatest strategic threat we have right now is resolving our relationship with China," said Webb, a highly decorated Marine from the Vietnam War. He said the United States must be tough on China.
"We will do something about that," Webb said.
Clinton targeted Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, over its military involvement in Syria. "We have to stand up to his bullying and specifically in Syria," Clinton said.
She said a no-fly zone within a coalition is necessary.
"I'm trying to figure out what leverage we have to get Russia to the table," Clinton said.
Sanders called Syria "a quagmire," a term commonly used for the Vietnam War. He said the Iraq War was "the worst foreign policy blunder" in American history.
Sanders took on Clinton's support for a no-fly zone in Syria, which he said would escalate the fighting.
Asked if there is any reason he would use military force as president, Sanders said he would act "if we are threatened or our allies are threatened. . . . I do not support the United States getting involved in unilateral action."
Sanders voted against the Iraq War, while Clinton voted for it as senator after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Clinton has since said she regrets her vote.
Chafee cast the only Republican vote in the Senate against the war on Iraq in 2002.
O'Malley said no president should take the military option "off the table." He agreed the Iraq War was one of the nation's worst blunders.
"I believe that no-fly zone in Syria at this time, Madam Secretary, would be a mistake . . . that we would deeply regret," O'Malley said.
Sanders defended his record on gun control, noting he has a D-minus grade from the National Rifle Association.
But Clinton said he's not tough enough.
"We lose 90 people a day to gun violence," Clinton said, "and it is time everyone in this country stands up to the NRA," she said.
She accused Sanders of wanting to give "immunity" to gun manufacturers after massacres.
"All the shouting in the world is not going to do what I hope all of us want, which it keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have guns," Sanders said. He said rhetoric has gotten in the way of effective legislation.
Sanders has a mixed record on gun control votes as a representative of pro-gun Vermont, including his vote against the 1994 Brady Law creating background checks for gun purchases.
"We have to take another look at it," Sanders said of the existing federal gun control law. He noted, however, that rural Americans feel differently about gun control than urban residents, who associate guns with crimes.
"Our job is to bring people together around common sense legislation. . . . I intend to lead this country" to it, Sanders said in an exchange with O'Malley.
"The reality is that despite these tragedies," Chafee said, "the gun lobby moves in and tells people they are coming to take away your guns and they are successful . . . so I would bring the gun lobby in. . . . Let's find common ground together."
O'Malley, 52, defended his record against crime as Baltimore mayor.
As Baltimore mayor, he reduced the crime rate, but some blame the death of the young African-American Freddy Gray, this year in police custody on those get-tough-on-crime policies.
"We saved lives and gave our city a better future," O'Malley said, noting he protected African-American families in crime-riddled neighborhoods. "We restored peace in our poorer neighborhoods."
Chafee, 62, defended his background -- he has been a Democrat for only two years, after being a liberal Republican and an independent.
"You are looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues. . . . I have not changed on the issues," Chafee said.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper noted several changed positions by Clinton, and asked her if she would say anything to get elected.
Clinton said she continually learns and evolves her views as needed and required by the facts.
"I have a range of views and they are rooted in my values and in my experience," she said.
He pressed Clinton on whether she was a moderate or progressive and Sanders was asked how a Democratic socialist like himself can be elected in America.
"I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done," Clinton said.
Sanders said people have to understand what a Democratic socialist is.
"What Democratic socialism is about is that it is wrong and immoral that 1 percent of this country has 90 percent of the income," Sanders said.
Asked if he was a capitalist, Sanders said he is not a "casino capitalist" where "a handful of millionaires" control the vast majority of wealth.
"What Sen. Sanders said certainly makes sense," Clinton said, but she said income inequality must be addressed as an "excess" of capitalism, without abandoning capitalism that built this country.
Introductions at Democratic debate begin with Chafee, O'Malley, Clinton and Sanders, followed by Webb.
Most polls show Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire and neck-and-neck in Iowa -- critical early primaries for Clinton to right her campaign or for Sanders to establish his credibility to win the nomination. Clinton's staff, however, emphasizes the former first lady's strong favorability ratings and strong support among Democrats nationwide, although she hasn't yet ignited the important nonenrolled voters.
Chafee, 62, introduces himself by saying voters should assess "experience, character and vision for the future."
He said he has been a mayor, senator and governor, and added he opposed the Iraq War and turned his state around in the "depths of the recession" as governor.
Chafee, who was elected Rhode Island governor as an independent in 2010, was also a U.S. senator and mayor of Warwick as a Republican filling the seat held by his father, who died in office. He cast the only Republican vote in the Senate against the war on Iraq in 2002.
In 30 years, "I have had no scandals," he said.
Webb, 69, the former Virginia governor, was the secretary of the Navy under Republican President Ronald Reagan and was a highly decorated Marine after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was elected to the Senate in 2006.
"We're looking for a leader who understands how the system works and is not co-opted by it," Webb said. "I fought and bled for my country in Vietnam."
O'Malley, 52, introduced himself as a "lifelong Democrat," a dig at Sanders, who has run as a socialist and independent.
"I have learned how to get things done because I am clear on my principles," he said.
O'Malley has portrayed himself as the executive who got things done, such as legalizing gay marriage and ending the death penalty, as governor.
Sanders said, "Our country today faces a series of unprecedented crises."
He said the middle class is disappearing "and almost all the new growth being created has gone to the top 1 percent. . . . Our campaign finance system is corrupt."
He said climate change "is real, it is created by human activity" and must be acted upon, Sanders said.
"Today in America we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth," he said, citing high African and Latino populations in prison. "It seems to be that instead of providing more jails, maybe -- just maybe -- we should be putting more money into education and jobs for our kids."
Clinton said, "I have put forward specific plans" and she cited her expertise and 30 years' experience in public policy.
She said the wealthy pay too little tax and the middle class pays too much, something she will make a priority to change. "I think it's about time we have paid family leave for families," she said.
"For me, this is about bringing our country together again," she said, citing political polarization and marginalization of minorities. "So fathers can say to their daughters, you, too, can become president," she added.