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What surveys say about the latest Democratic debate

On Jan. 17 Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley vied for the Democratic presidential nomination during the party's fourth debate in Charleston, SC. With the 2016 Democratic National Convention nearing, Sanders and O'Malley attempted to loosen Clinton's firm grasp on the race.

Looking to Obama for support
Clinton turned in a firm, scholarly performance. The former secretary of state smoothly reinforced her key strengths and rebuffed attacks surrounding her place within the Democratic establishment, reported the Los Angeles Times. She also spent much of the evening linking herself to President Barack Obama.

Clinton lauded the president's economic initiatives and praised his foreign policy accomplishments, specifically the Iran nuclear deal. She even went after Sanders for disparaging Obama, reported The New York Times. According to pundits, this was all a part of Clinton's renewed strategy to win over African-American voters, a section of the electorate recently targeted by her closest competitor, Sanders.

Clinton is polling at 77 percent with black voters, reported Gallup. Only 29 percent of African-American voters support Sanders.

In the fall, Clinton broke with Obama over his assessment of the Islamic State, reported The Washington Post. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, she also criticized the president's immigration policy

Sanders loses ground on guns
According to a Des Moines Register poll, 60 percent of Democratic Iowa caucus -goers do not support Sanders' views on gun control. In 2005, the Vermont senator voted for a Republican-sponsored bill that gave gun manufacturers and sellers immunity in court cases involving firearm negligence or gun-related violent crime, reported Politifact. Sanders also voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a 1993 gun control measure that mandated federal background checks for all buyers. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 85 percent of Americans support federal background checks.

On Jan. 16, Sanders voiced support for the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, a piece of pending legislation that would allow courts to hold firearm manufacturers and sellers liable in cases involving gun violence, reported The New York Times. Despite this policy shift, the senator's gun control views were still a major liability during the debate. Clinton accused him of flip-flopping and highlighted his supposed alignment with the National Rifle Association. According to CBS News, the guns rights organization gave Sanders a D-minus rating.

Winners and losers
Pundits put Sanders ahead of Clinton after the night was over, reported The Washington Post. Sanders successfully painted Clinton as an antiquated Washington insider and laid out his idiosyncratic platform with passion. O'Malley floundered in his obscurity, lashing out at moderators and hassling debate officials during commercial breaks. 

According to RealClear Politics, Clinton still has a considerable lead over Sanders nationally. However, the strident senator has gained some important ground in Iowa. A recent Quinnipiac poll had Sanders leading Clinton by five points. And, 43 percent of likely voters in the state identify as socialist which is particularly good news for Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

Iowa Democrats caucus on Feb. 1. The next Democratic debate takes place Feb. 11 in Milwaukee, WI.

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