Fewer personal attacks.
More substantive discussions.
If you were searching for the single trait that set the first Democratic presidential debate apart from those held by the Republicans so far, this was it, political analysts said.
The five Democrats — including frontrunner Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders — shared the stage for the first time Tuesday, discussing policy issues ranging from gun control to the economy and big business.
Who do you think won the first Democratic debate?
Sure, they took subtle jabs.
But they steered clear of the kinds of “fireworks” that have characterized the GOP debates and made them ratings bonanzas.
“Certainly compared to the Republican debate, this was hardly a debate in the way we would think of one,” said David O’Connell, professor of American politics at Dickinson University.
Even when CNN moderator Anderson Cooper gave the candidates a chance to take a shot at another candidate, they passed, O’Connell noted. That was a stark contrast from the Republican debates featuring “substantive arguments” between Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina or Rand Paul and Chris Christie.
O’Connell said the Democrats had more “implicit criticism,” such as when Clinton noted she was a “progressive who likes to get things done,” which could be viewed as a jab at Sanders — or when former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee emphasized his lack of involvement in any scandals, for which Clinton has been criticized for.
Stephen Medvic, a government professor at Franklin & Marshall College, agreed that the Democratic debate was less about the “fireworks” of the Republican debates, which have featured candidates pitted against each other, and more about the “grilling” of individual candidates.
“These were questions that were tough to answer,” Medvic said. “And that can be really effective because you really learn something about the candidates, and there still can be drama.”
Part of the reason there may have been less “drama” in the Democratic debate, Medvic said, is that the candidates are not as ideologically opposed as they are on the Republican side.
“Policy debates can be more boring than shouting matches,” said Dickinson political science professor Jim Hoefler.
Because many of the candidates on the Republican side have more interesting personal stories, the debates are more entertaining, Hoefler said.
“You’ve got the outsider billionaire, the African-American neurosurgeon, the hispanic and brother and son of two presidents,” Hoefler said. “The only storyline you really have on the other side is can Hillary survive the Benghazi and email scandals.”
Dave Dumeyer, chairman of the Lancaster County GOP, said he hopes the questions in the next Republican primary debates focus more on policies rather than trying to start a “food fight” among the candidates.
“As we get to the further debates, I think we expect the [Republican] candidates to weigh in on those issues,” Dumeyer said.
Sally Lyall, chairwoman of the county Democrats, said the fact that the Democratic candidates did not get into “nasty remarks” was evidence that they are “more respectful to people.”
“We’re respectful to students and student debt. We have respect to the plight of immigrants...for people who need medical care,” Lyall said.
As for the effects of the debates, O’Connell said the first Republican debates had some effect on the polls to bring up a lower-profile candidate like Fiorina while the lesser-known Democrats may have not seen the same effect.
“If you looked at the state of the [Democratic] race before [the debate], it is the same as the state of the race today,” he said.
Each of the analysts didn’t expect the tone or effect of the Republican debates to change much until the field narrows.
“Until they start to whittle it down, it’s going to be a little chaotic and confusing,” Medvic said. “It’s going to be hard for candidates to get a word in edgewise.”