Live Blog: ABC Democratic Presidential Debate

By Mark Joyella 

Democratic presidential candidates have gathered in Manchester, N.H., of all places, to hold a debate on a Saturday night a few days before Christmas, when the NFL hosts a rare Saturday night game and when many are lining up for what may be the biggest movie of all time on its opening weekend.

Some had the nerve to suggest somebody didn’t want a huge audience–imagine.

And this time, the Democrats have decided to start fighting–at least their campaigns–after Friday’s big political story, that members of the Bernie Sanders campaign accessed voter data compiled by Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Will the candidates clash on stage? Will anyone watch–even with the drama? We know this much: reporters will be there, and many of them will be quite cold, as the media filing center is situated inside an ice rink:

The moderators tonight are David Muir and Martha Raddatz. The hashtag is #DemDebate. If you’re looking for a #DemDebate wine pairing, you might try one of the rich, bold reds they favor at Manchester’s popular Hanover Street Chop House, where you can get a glass of Seven Falls Cabernet from Washington State for $12.50.

If that’s not your style, you could grab one of the 30-plus beers they have on tap at Manchester’s Central Ale House, like, say, the Woostock Inn Pigs Ear Brown Ale. Now drink up and let’s get on with this Saturday night debate.

8:00 p.m. ET: Never Trust the Start Times ABC begins its 8 p.m. debate with a mini-newscast anchored by George Stephanopoulos. The mini-cast includes a report from the media filing center by correspondent Cecilia Vega on the data dispute, and a discussion of the latest polling with ABC chief White House correspondent Jon Karl.

We imagine at some point ABC will actually air a debate. 8:17 p.m. ET: “Debate Ten Minutes Away” That’s what George Stephanopoulos just said. So if you thought you needed to rush the kids to bed and slam some food in the microwave in time to be in front of your TV at 8, expecting to see Hillary Clinton’s face as she knifed Bernie Sanders, well, you’ve been had.

And so we repeat: drink up and let’s get on with this debate.

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 8.29.18 PM8:22 p.m. ET: What Are Those Green Things? ABC has–of course–a focus group of voters. But we couldn’t get past those green things on the table next to Byron Pitts. Mini-planters?

8:30 p.m. ET: The Debate Begins–With a Major Diss The first shot of the debate comes not from a candidate, but from ABC, which completely ignores Martin O’Malley in its dramatic open, shaping the debate as a fight between Bernie and Hillary. But seriously–not even a MENTION that there’s a third candidate?

8:37 p.m. ET: Apology. Apology Accepted. Sanders explained the data breach, was asked by Muir if he should apologize to Clinton, and he said flatly, “I apologize.” Not just to Clinton but also to his supporters. Clinton accepts. If you were hoping for a dustup…

8:55 p.m. ET: Whoa Whoa Whoa, Let’s Calm Down a Little Bit, Martin. The clash does come, but it’s Sanders and O’Malley, over gun control. O’Malley accuses Clinton and Sanders of being weak on gun control, and Sanders attempts to shut down O’Malley with “whoa, whoa, whoa…let’s calm down a little bit, Martin.”

9:02 p.m. ET: O’Malley Shut Down by Raddatz: Martin O’Malley is working hard to get into the debate, but Raddatz isn’t having it. “No, no, governor, no. no. Not yet, governor. I’ll come to you when we call on you,” she says when O’Malley tries to interject:

Raddatz’s questions–and refusal to roll when the candidates try to control the debate–is earning her kudos on Twitter:

9:25 p.m. ET: These Two are Both Old: Martin O’Malley bluntly suggests that he’s younger than Sanders and Clinton. “Can I offer a different generation’s perspective on this?” He gets boos and groans from the audience.

9:30 p.m. ET: Half-Time ABC takes a commercial break, and returns with shots of the audience milling about, stretching their legs. We are apparently in half-time, and fittingly, we go to the booth for some analysis from Stephanopoulos and Karl.

Now more commercials.

9:34 p.m. ET: Livid Over Livestream On Twitter, some journalists are complaining about the ABC debate livestream:

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 9.40.17 PM9:35 p.m. ET: Where’s Hillary? The debate resumes, but Hillary’s lectern is empty. Muir awkwardly asks if Mrs. Clinton will be walking onstage at any moment, then begins his next question.

Many observers noted that debate agreements with host networks usually include agreements that empty lecterns and references to candidates’ use of bathrooms will not make air. It was not immediately clear whether such an agreements was made between the Clinton campaign and ABC.

The audience cheers as Clinton returns, and says “sorry.”

9:40 p.m. ET: “Everybody Should” You’ll be seeing this clip all day tomorrow. But here it is right now, anyway:

9:45 p.m. ET: Trump Wins As the debate’s first hour ended, Twitter crunched the numbers–and in terms of new followers, Sanders is first, but Donald Trump is second:

10:00 p.m. ET: Clinton vs. Muir David Muir repeatedly interrupts Clinton in an effort to move on to a new question, and it feels very, very awkward. Neither Clinton nor Muir gives in. Viewers express frustration:

9:34 p.m. Raddatz Fans Revolt They loved her tough questioning on foreign policy, but flowers and china patterns? Not so much. A question to Mrs. Clinton about the role of the presidential spouse fell flat for many:

And there weren’t many fans for ABC’s repeated commercial breaks–and in-debate analysis. There were at our counting at least three breaks.

10:45 p.m. ET: Trump Responds Shortly after Jonathan Karl reported that Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had maintained “radio silence” during the #DemDebate, the Donald emerged–to blast Stephanopoulos:

10:50 p.m. ET: May the Force Be With You Coasting and comfortable, Hillary Clinton closes this strange debate with a surprising nod to what most people did instead of actually watching this debate. “Thank you, good night, and may the force be with you.”