Milwaukee—Presidential debates are national discussions, and this is especially true when a debate is held almost two months before the state where it is taking place will cast primary votes. Yet, in Milwaukee on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton displayed a steady awareness of where she was debating, using local references to make national points.
Debating in Wisconsin, which does not hold its primary until April 5, Clinton regularly referenced individuals, issues, and challenges facing the state in general and the city of Milwaukee in particular. Democrats can agree or disagree with Clinton on particular issues. And Democrats can certainly be impressed with the powerful statements made by Bernie Sanders on the need to end the massive redistribution of wealth upward in America, with his ripping of Wall Street’s influence on our politics and with his robust defense of single-payer healthcare.
But Clinton displayed a sense of place that was not just an example of smart politics. It was a reminder of what Americans should expect in a presidential contender and a president. The front-runner who now finds herself in a serious contest with Sanders—the winner of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary—did not merely name-drop the state she was passing through for the latest Democratic debate. Clinton’s references to Wisconsin issues and personalities came at proper points in the discussion. She used insights and details from Wisconsin to inform discussions about issues of concern not just to Wisconsinites but to Democrats who live far from the state.
Early in the debate, Sanders explained that he would pay for bold new initiatives by “[doing] away with the outrageous loopholes that allow profitable multinational corporations to stash billions of dollars in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and in a given year pay zero, zero in federal income tax.” He closed by declaring that, “I do believe that now after the American people bailed Wall Street out, yes, they should pay a Wall Street speculation tax so that we can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We bailed them out. Now it is their time to help the middle class.”
The senator from Vermont made a fine point.
And Clinton knew it. She responded—as she did at many points during the debate—by talking about how much she agreed with Sanders. “You know, I think, again, both of us share the goal of trying to make college affordable for all young Americans. And I have set forth a compact that would do just that for debt-free tuition,” she began.
But, then, Clinton hit Sanders with the details.