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What To Watch For In The Last Democratic Debate In 2015


We will start the program with politics because tonight marks the last debate of the year for the Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. They will all be in New Hampshire for a debate that's supposed to be focused on national security and foreign policy but, of course, one thing people will be watching is the interaction between Sanders and Clinton since it was just yesterday that we found out that the Democratic National Committee punished Sanders' campaign for unauthorized access to Hillary Clinton's voter files. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith is covering tonight's debate in Manchester, N.H., and she's with us now from the spin room. Where exactly are you?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I am in an ice hockey rink at Saint Anselm College, which is both the spin room and the press filing room.

MARTIN: So it's a little chilly.

KEITH: A little chilly - they gave us hand warmers.

MARTIN: I guess we should talk fast.


MARTIN: OK, so what happened between these two campaigns and where do things stand now?

KEITH: The fight is almost less between the two campaigns and more between the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Sanders campaign accessed data that belonged to the Hillary Clinton campaign - that was only possible because there was some sort of a computer glitch in the system. And as a result, the Bernie Sanders campaign was punished by the DNC - the Democratic National Committee. They cut off the campaign's access to the voter files, which meant that if volunteers showed up to go knock on doors or make phone calls, they basically had to send them away. Ultimately, earlier today, they got access to those voter files back, but it has been a huge blow up - a huge fight.

MARTIN: Well, what effect do you think it's going to have on the dynamics tonight?

KEITH: It is a certainly a cloud hanging over this debate. There's no way that this won't come up. Either the moderators will bring it up or perhaps Sanders will bring it up because they feel like they've really been victimized by the DNC.

MARTIN: So this issue of the data breach aside, what else do you think is going to come up tonight? I mean, after all, this is the first debate since the attacks in San Bernardino. One assumes that the issues around terrorism and national security are going to come up. How are they going to handle that?

KEITH: They are definitely going to talk about that. Hillary Clinton has been talking about national security quite a bit on the trail. She did a big speech about combating ISIS earlier this week. And Bernie Sanders, who has at times been reluctant to talk about national security-type issues is expected, his campaign manager tells me, to hit that harder tonight, to really dig into that in a way that he hasn't in the past debates. Another thing I expect to come up, because we're in New Hampshire and New Hampshire is suffering from a heroin crisis, a drug abuse crisis - the candidates have talked about it, and I expect it to come up in tonight's debate.

MARTIN: Finally, though, Tamara, I have to ask - this is the last debate before the end of the year, it's the weekend before Christmas on a Saturday night, whose idea was this to have a debate tonight? And I mean, how many people are really going to watch this?

KEITH: One of the biggest shopping days of the year - I'm sorry, family, I'm not getting you anything - I think that it was the Democratic National Committee that set the schedule. Many people feel like this schedule was set to favor Hillary Clinton and was essentially set to get as few eyeballs watching it as possible. It's not clear how many people will be watching this debate. But maybe more people will be watching it now because of the controversy over the voter files.

MARTIN: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who will be covering the debates tonight. Stay warm, Tamara, stay warm.

KEITH: (Laughter) I'll do my best. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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