After months of clinging stubbornly to a stingy, deliberately low-visibility debate schedule, the Democratic Party unleashed back-to-back nights of Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders, and what a treat is was.
First up was a Wednesday town hall that impressed with a respectful tone; heartfelt, probing questions from the audience and answers that pushed past the candidates' usual talking points. Republicans would do well to replicate this format once their field narrows a bit more. A well-done town hall can allow for a more human, multidimensional side of candidates that can make a bigger impression on voters.
The questions too, can be different and disarming. A rabbi asked Clinton a vital, if esoteric, question on how to balance the ego necessary to be president with the humility valued in most true leaders. Clinton responded unexpectedly, citing the Catholic work "Return of the Prodigal Son," which she said helped her practice "the discipline of gratitude."
Next was a fierce, one-on-one debate Thursday that did more to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate than all of the previous debates combined. Moderators wisely faded back and let the two candidates hammer at each other in a way that is not possible in a multicandidate format. If party officials had been trying to shield Clinton, Thursday proved the error of that judgment. She had her stumbles — particularly on Wall Street donations — and her e-mail answer remains unconvincing, but she showed a grit and command of facts that should inspire on-the-fence Democrats. Sanders had his moments as well, particularly on Wednesday, when he appeared reasonable and deft on domestic issues. His Achilles' heel, as always, proved to be foreign policy, where he withered under prolonged questioning in the debate.
The Democrats have scheduled more appearances, and that is to voters' advantage. Republicans have dominated attention largely because of the constant spotlight thrown on an ever-shifting lineup. Democrats are late to the game, but wise to change their strategy.