With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly in the lead in national polls, her challenge in Saturday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire was to keep Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' rising popularity at bay by simply being liked and not screwing up. Her challengers, however, needed to convince people to give them serious consideration, particularly former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who provided much of the night's entertainment by going slightly off the rails. Check out the highlights below, including Clinton's patently obvious pop culture one-liner.
Bernie apologizes, then comes for the DNC
Much as Clinton's email scandal gave her competitors an opportunity to pounce, the data breach that gave Sanders access to Clinton's donor list added some unexpected controversy to this debate. But what could've been a hot potato topic between the two quickly fell to the floor as Sanders accepted an invitation to apologize to Clinton - before he turned his ornery fury on the Democratic National Committee itself. He called the DNC's suspension of his access to data "egregious and arbitrary," while a camera panned to DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz looking visibly over it all. That's Bernie for you, always sticking it to The Man.
Martin O'Malley: comes out swinging, leaves us groaning
O'Malley has a really high hurdle to climb to stay - or more appropriately, even seriously get -- into this race, and he rightfully gave it all he had in an effort to get noticed. Dude floored it straight out of the gate, invoking "fascists and billionaires with big mouths" in his opening remarks, a clear diss to Donald Trump. He got feisty when Sanders and Clinton talked about the implications of the data breach, saying: "For crying out loud, you want to know why things don't get done in Washington?" before urging people to go to martinomalley.com. (For the first time of many.)
He got so riled up talking about gun control that a characteristically crotchety Sanders had to interrupt him. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's calm down here," he said. O'Malley wasn't above pandering either, bringing up his Muslim friend when the topic turned to Islamic profiling, his daughters in college when the topic turned to education and his friends who lost loved ones to addiction when drug addiction became an issue. He seemed to know everybody and everything, personally, like if Kristin Wiig's Penelope character from SNL was running for president.
He hit a true low when Sanders and Clinton debated their approach to war in the Middle East. "May I offer a different generation's perspective on this?" he said, a dismally transparent attempt to cast them as old. Audible groans went up, which said everything about his entire time on the stage.
Hillary: likable, fashionably late and using The Force
Clinton, enjoying a sizable lead but working a charm offensive to earn her more likability and trust, radiated absolutely nothing at all in a brown tunic that made her look comforting and embraceable, like a fringed pillow. She was cool and stoic throughout, often smiling smugly when O'Malley tried to come for her, and the clapping-back was strong. "I agree with O'Malley and I applaud his record," she said during their gun control exchange. "I just wish he wouldn't misrepresent mine." Bloop! Another time, she just straight-up laughed at him and then retorted, "Since he has been making all kinds of statements..." earning laughs from the audience. It was savage shade - totally unbothered.
After a break, the debate resumed with just Sanders and O'Malley, with Clinton noticeably absent from her position at the center of the dais. Where was she? Skyping with granddaughter Charlotte? Answering emails on that controversial Blackberry? ABC News' David Muir, who co-moderated the debate, was mid-way through a question to Sanders about the economy when Clinton strode smoothly back to her place at the podium. Applause broke out as she reclaimed her spot. "Sorry," she said simply, getting laughs. Nobody reprimanded her either, cause Hill is a #boss.
She diplomatically handled a really patronizing question about the roles of spouses in the White House - the "boxers or briefs?" question reframed for the first legitimate female candidate. She'd still pick out flowers and china, she noted, not Bill - most certainly making Democrats and feminists want to punch the wall. But there was more! She closed her remarks by saying "May the Force be with you," a transparent play for the youth vote that we frankly loved anyway.
Shout shout, let it all out. Who needs moderators?
This debate was perhaps the shout-iest of the campaign season. Both Muir and co-moderator Martha Raddatz struggled to keep the candidates on schedule, often without success. "Now this is getting to be fun," Sanders said to Clinton, ignoring the moderators' pleas to move on to a different topic.
(Note to future debate planners: Please devise an electric shock device of some sort, or at the very least, the ability to mute an offender's mic.)