The Slatest

Increased Focus on Foreign Policy During Debate Could Help Hillary Clinton  

Former secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015.  

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

As the Democratic presidential hopefuls get ready to face off tonight, CBS News has already made clear it won’t be ignoring yesterday’s news out of Paris. That means tonight’s debate will have a much stronger foreign-policy focus than candidates were preparing for, which could end up turning into a positive for Hillary Clinton. In contrast to a former secretary of State, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may end up looking inexperienced on the world stage.

“Last night’s attacks are a tragic example of the kind of challenges American presidents face in today’s world and we intend to ask the candidates how they would confront the evolving threat of terrorism,” CBS News Washington bureau chief Chris Isham said. “We’re still going to ask questions about domestic policy and issues that all Americans care about. But clearly, with the events of last night we need to change the focus somewhat.”

In a focus group of undecided Iowa Democrats, it was clear that Clinton had the advantage in terms of being seen as a stronger potential commander in chief, particularly when compared with Senator Bernie Sanders, reports the New York Times. “It is fair to say that Sanders was extremely vulnerable on this issue before Paris, and that is even truer now,” Chris Kofinis, a Democratic consultant who moderated the focus group, wrote in a memo.

It seems Sanders’ team knows this and is none too happy about the shift in focus. Mark Longabaugh, a top Sanders aide, reportedly got into a heated exchange with CBS executives Saturday morning during a conference call in which the network announced the Paris focus. “It was a little bit of a bizarre scene,” a staff member from a rival campaign told Yahoo News. “The Sanders representative, you know, really laid into CBS and basically … kind of threw like a little bit of a fit and said, ‘You are trying to turn this into a foreign policy debate. That’s not what any of us agreed to. How can you change the terms of the debate, you know, on the day of the debate. That’s not right.’” The Sanders campaign declined to comment on the allegations.

Clinton is already going into the debate as the clear frontrunner, with 52 percent of Democratic primary voters expressing support for her candidacy, compared to 33 percent for Sanders and five percent for O’Malley, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.