In last night's PBS Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went back and forth with both candidates scoring points over the other at different times throughout the night. At the end of it all, it seemed like they were both roughly tied, Sanders perhaps slightly ahead. That is a fair accomplishment for him, considering Clinton's superior experience on the national debate stage and the fact that she is still the favorite to win the nomination, by a large margin. If Sanders wants to win, however, he is going to have to do better than roughly draws (Iowa, this debate) against Clinton, and that is going to be quite a difficult task for his campaign.
Bernie Sanders scored points on campaign finance, social security, wall street, and immigration. He even was able to get one decent attack in on foreign policy (Henry Kissinger), a subject he usually loses pretty handily to Clinton in. He lost on racial issues, a lot of the foreign policy section, Clinton's closing statement, and (probably) her defense of President Obama. Depending on how the points are weighted, both candidates come out with relatively similar scores. That's a problem for Sanders because he is still behind by a large margin nationally, and in many of the states at the front of the campaign schedule. If he is to come from behind, he needs to be able to score definitive victories over Clinton, such as what he was able to achieve in New Hampshire. Close wins will not be able to give his campaign the momentum it needs to stay competitive throughout the race.
The question then becomes, how can Sanders do better during these debates? To his credit, he's doing very well, and much better than many (including myself) thought he would do going "mano a mano" with Hillary Clinton. In my mind this was his best debate performance to date. The previous debate was his 2nd best performance so far. It seems he is improving and beginning to rise to the occasion. For example, he decided to open a new line of attack on foreign policy during the debate, bringing up Henry Kissinger. I think this was a good argument to make for two reasons, even if it is debatable whether he won the exchange. One, it puts Hillary Clinton on the defensive during foreign policy, instead of just allowing her to showcase her superior knowledge and experience on the subject. Two, this may help Sanders with older voters. Everyone knows that Sanders cleans up with millenials, but we don't vote so he needs to win other voting groups too. People who can remember Vietnam will remember who he is, and many do not remember him fondly. If Sanders can convince these people that Clinton will be like Kissinger in the White House, he may be able to expand his base of support.
If Sanders wants to do better during the debates, he needs to do more things like bringing up Henry Kissinger, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR. He is the candidate who has to come from behind, and so it is he who has to take the risks on the debate stage. Some of them will pay off, and some of them will work out badly. But he should not continue hiding behind the same stump speech he has been saying the entire campaign. He can keep making the same points, but change the writing so that people don't compare him to Marco Rubio. He needs to try to broaden his appeal, and adapt as the campaign progresses. For example, his opening statement was mostly similar to what he has said in previous debates. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talked about racial issues, and spoke in a way that seemed more specific to this stage of the campaign. Sanders can keep talking about campaign finance, but he needs to make it in a way that people see how it directly affects them in everyday life. He can talk about breaking up the big banks, but at this point he needs to get into the how, and specifically why his plan is better than Clinton's.
During her closing statement, Hillary Clinton made the point that she is not a "single issue candidate," a definite jab at Bernie Sanders. This attack though, makes a valid point. Bernie Sanders needs to expand his argument into one that is appropriate for a full national race and that can appeal to every demographic of voter. He needs to spice up his stump speech and seem less like a wind up toy. At times, he has shown the ability to think on his feet and come up with arguments on the spot. But needs to take more risks and be more creative. And most importantly for Bernie Sanders, please start making some jokes.