But Clinton was far from perfect. She gave ambiguous or evasive answers on several questions, such as on marijuana legalization and health care benefits for children of immigrants who entered the country illegally. On other questions, she gave answers that might have played well to liberal Democrats but which might not be received as favorably by general election voters (such as saying she’d “make the wealthy pay” for paid family leave and other welfare programs). Sanders gained more Twitter followers during the debate than Clinton, meanwhile, and got considerably more Google search traffic.
Put another way, Clinton gave about the performance that might reasonably have been expected from a frontrunner who gained a ton of experience as a debater during the 2008 Democratic primary: pretty good. Poised, polished and highly competent at appealing to various segments of the Democratic electorate. But also risk-averse and without all that many high notes.
The media judged Clinton’s night to be way better than “pretty good.”