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Clinton Pressed on Policy Flip-Flops Early In Debate

A general view shows the stage during a walk-through before a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are scheduled to participate in the party's first presidential debate.
Alex Wong Getty Images
A general view shows the stage during a walk-through before a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are scheduled to participate in the party's first presidential debate.

After two rollicking Republican debates, it's finally Democrats' time in the spotlight.

Compared to the crowded GOP debates, the stage this evening in Las Vegas will seem bare. Just five Democrats are set to face-off: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

The biggest focus will be on Clinton and Sanders, who are polling the highest. Clinton entered the race as the heavy frontrunner, but she's faced increased scrutiny over her use of a private email server while at the State Department and whether it was susceptible to security threats. And only in recent days has she taken firm policy stances against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Keystone Pipeline.

Meanwhile, Sanders may be the biggest surprise of the campaign so far. With a message of economic populism and tapping into a progressive hunger, he's built a lead over Clinton in New Hampshire and pulled in an impressive $25 million fundraising haul last quarter. It's his biggest stage yet to make his case and argue he can appeal to more than just the most liberal part of the Democratic electorate.

The other three men on the stage have to make a case for why they're there. O'Malley, once seen as a rising star in the party, was supposed to be the chief rival to Clinton. But he's failed to catch fire, and could be throwing plenty of elbows against both Clinton and Sanders to score points.

Webb and Chafee have been virtually absent from the campaign trail and could struggle to even stay relevant during the debate.

We'll be liveblogging the debate below. And you can follow along with NPR's live-chat here and on Twitter with the hashtag #nprdebate.

8:58 p.m. Clinton's opening statement reflects the softer tone her campaign is trying to underscore — and is very different than her 2008 debates. She points to her granddaughter Charlotte but also recalls her own grandparents and how her mother struggled. Her declaration that "it's about time we had paid family leave for American families and joined the rest of the world" gets big applause. As does her hope that fathers can tell their daughters that "Yes, you can grow up to be president." She's embracing her gender in a way she didn't eight years ago.

8:56 p.m. Sanders's opening statement — in which he was almost yelling — sticks closely to his stump speech and hits some of his most popular points-- decrying money in politics, warning of climate changing and pushing for economic equality.

8:54 p.m. O'Malley is presenting himself as a happy populist. He's not blaming President Obama for the continued economic woes, saying, "We elected a president not a magician."

8:50 p.m. Webb's most noticeable point is that he asserts he was one of the first to push for a pivot to Asia — currently on of President Obama's top foreign policy pushes. He also ticked off his children — and almost forgot one of his daughters.

8:48 p.m. After many commercials and pre-game analysis, the debate finally begins. Chafee is first out of the gate with his opening statement, saying he's the only one who's been a mayor, governor and senator.

But then, he throws down a burn — "I'm proud that in over 30 years in public life, I have had no scandals" — a very not-subtle jab at Clinton and her husband's tenure in the White House.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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