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The debate that was all about Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders (right) stood with opponents former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (left) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the start of Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate.AP

At some point in his life, Bernie Sanders must have had a dream: One day, he could reach the highest levels of American politics — not by bending his core beliefs to get elected, but by bending voters his way.

At last night’s Democratic presidential debate, no matter how his campaign ends, his dream may have been realized.

At the outset of the 2016 contest, Sanders was polling at 2 or 3 percent and drastically behind Hillary Clinton, who by every metric was the most formidable nonincumbent to ever pursue the White House.

But on Sunday night, the debate was not about Clinton. Topic number one was who exactly is Sanders, the self-described Democratic-socialist, who now appears as likely as Clinton to win the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.


If anyone thinks Sanders is not a real threat to Clinton, consider the evolution of her conversation in the contest. For six months, Clinton would rarely, if ever, utter the name “Bernie Sanders.” When they debated, Sanders would either forgive Clinton her e-mail scandal, or she forgave him for his campaign’s data breach.

On Sunday night, Clinton and Sanders attacked each other on a number of issues, but the questions and answers were almost entirely about Sanders. What was up with his changing position on gun control? How does his health care plan work? How would he pay to make every public college in America free?

Sanders enjoyed the attention, and Clinton’s campaign appeared glad that someone was finally asking Sanders these questions in a high-profile format.

Regardless, Sanders, and his brand of politics, are far from ignored.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.