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*-- Dems spare at first presidential debate, Clinton and Saunders lose no ground --*

LAS VEGAS - The Democrats got their first debate for the 2016 presidential race Tuesday night, and despite some sparing, it will likely change little in the candidates' poll numbers.

Less heated than the Republican debates, front runner and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton took most of the criticism over her support for a no-fly zone over Syria and her vote in support of the Iraq war in 2002 when she was a senator from New York. Clinton in turn, attacked Republicans.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's main challenger, got the biggest laugh of the night when he, perhaps backhandedly, defended Clinton and declared "the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails."

The three other candidates, former Gov. of Rhode Island Lincoln Chaffee, former Gov. of Maryland Martin O'Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb needed to make big impression on voters. All three have poll numbers at or below one percent and didn't appear to make any headway.

When Chaffee made a vague swipe at Clinton over her emails, saying, "credibility is an issue," Clinton turned it into an applause line when CNN moderator Anderson Cooper asked her if she wanted to respond. Clinton simply said, "no."

Though CNN, that sponsored the debate, kept a podium ready for him, Vice President Joe Biden, who is still mulling over jumping into the presidential race, remained a non-candidate.

Here are some highlights from the evening's various topics.

On guns:

"It's time the entire country stood up against the N.R.A.," Clinton said.

Sanders mostly kept gun violence a health care issue. "I believe everybody in this country that has a mental crisis has got to get mental counseling immediately."

On Russia:

Clinton put the degraded relations between the two countries solely at President Vladimir Putin's feet.

"There's no doubt than when Putin came back in, that did change the relationship," she said. "We have to stand up to his bullying and I think it's important the United States make it very clear that it's not acceptable for him to be in Syria."

Sanders called the situation in Syria "a quagmire within a quagmire. I will do everything I can to make sure the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. "

On foreign policy:

"When our country is threatened or our allies threatened, I believe we need coalitions to come together to address the major crises of the world. I do not support the United States getting involved in unilateral action," Sander said, laying out his basic policy view.

"Whenever we go, in contrary to John Quincy Adams' advice," O'Malley said. "Searching the world for monsters to destroy, and when we use political might at the expense of democratic principles, we hurt ourselves.

Clinton drew on her own experience as secretary of state. "Diplomacy is not about getting the perfect deal, it's about balancing risk," she said.

On climate change:

Sanders agreed with Pope Francis that climate change is a moral issue, but said, "Nothing is going to change until we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party which denies the reality."

On paid family leave:

Clinton used the issue to paint Republicans as hypocrites. "They don't mind having big government interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They're fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it."

On the personal issues that might keep them from being electable:

"I do absorb new information," Clinton said in her defense of flip-flopping. "I do look at what's happening in the world. I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."

Sanders was unapologetic about being a socialist. "Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process, by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don't."

Chaffee said it wasn't so much that he changed from being a Republican to being a Democrat. "I have not changed on the issues and open my record for scrutiny. The [Republican] Party left me. There was no room for a liberal, moderate Republican in that party."

O'Malley defended his record as mayor of Baltimore, where race relations between police and black communities continue to be extremely tense. "Arrests peaked in 2003, but they declined every year after, as we restored peace."

Webb defended an op-ed he wrote attacking Affirmative Action and said, "I have always supported Affirmative Action for African Americans. That's the way the program was originally designed. What I've discussed is that when we create diversity programs that include everyone of color,, other than struggling whites in the Appalachian Mountains, we're not being true to the Democratic Party principle of elevating the level of consciousness about the hardships of a lot of people have who happen to be white."


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