Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and VT. Sen. Bernie Sanders both had an enormous amount at stake when they took the stage in Thursday night's debate.
With Clinton claiming victory in the Iowa caucuses and Sanders' significant win in the New Hampshire primary, Thursday's debate was their last chance to impress voters before the Nevada caucus.
In his opening statement, Sanders emphasized the disparity he has famously harped on throughout the primaries thus far.
Clinton, on the other hand, emphasized the work that needs to be done to equalize many sectors of the United States in order to make them fair for all races, ethnicities, and genders.
The first question of the night asked Sanders how much more prominent the federal government would be in Americans' lives if he were president.
In response, Sanders answered that "the United States should, in fact, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee healthcare to all people…"
He also touched upon his belief that public colleges and universities should be tuition free.
When pushed further about whether he believes the federal government should have limits, he firmly stated that it should.
Yet, to qualify this statement, he said, "there are massive levels of income and wealth inequality…You have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth. Yes, the government of a democratic society has a moral responsibility…in making sure that all of our people have a decent standard of living."
Clinton then criticized Sanders' plans, specifically his healthcare proposal, for not adding up.
She aligned herself with President Obama and the Affordable Health Care Act, highlighting her dedication to both the act itself and healthcare for all.
After describing her own views on healthcare, she once again turned to Sanders' plan and said, "the American people deserve to know specifically how this would work…You need to level with people what they will have at the end of the process you are proposing."
Sanders responded that "there is one major country on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all people," implicating the United States, and pointed out that the U.S. spends far more money per capita than countries that do provide healthcare to all.
"Please do not tell me that if…we have the courage to take on the drug companies, and have the courage to take on the insurance companies and the medical equipment suppliers…if we do that, yes, we can guarantee healthcare to all people in a much more cost-effective way."
The next question for Clinton asked whether Americans who fear a more involved federal government should fear Clinton in terms of a presidency.
In her response, Clinton said, "we should not make promises we cannot keep because that will further alienate Americans from understanding and believing we can, together, make some real changes in people's lives."
Clinton said the "price tag" for the plans she has is approximately one hundred billion dollars.
Responding to Clinton's criticisms that his plans have no financial basis, Sanders insisted that his plans are, in fact, paid for.
He also said that, since the American people bailed Wall Street out during the recession, "it is their time to help the American middle class."
The next question, again directed at Clinton, asked what women should know about her, since she is lacking such a significant portion of women's votes.
She expressed hope that her constant fight for "specific needs that respond to the women of our country" will continue to garner support from more women.
Clinton was then asked to respond to a comment made by Madeleine Albright, in which she said, "there is a special place in hell for women who don't support other women."
Clinton said that this comment does not change her own view that both women and men alike are entitled to their own political opinions.
Sanders was then asked if he worried that he will be the "instrument" in interfering with history, or, in other words, defeating who would be the first female president.
"From a historical point of view, somebody with my background, somebody with my views…I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well."
In response, Clinton said that she does not ask people to vote for her because she is a woman, but rather because she believes she has the most experience and the qualities that would make her the best fit for the job.
She then highlighted her endorsement from Planned Parenthood Action Fund in the effort to draw attention to her record of supporting women and their best interests, describing herself as a "leader" on women's issues, compared to Sanders who "votes the right way."
The debate then shifted focus away from women's issues to look at the rising problem of minority incarceration, specifically among African American men.
"We have to end over-policing in African American neighborhoods," Sanders said. "I would hope that we can all agree that we are sick and tired of seeing videos on television of unarmed people, or of African Americans, shot by police officers…We have got to make it clear that any police officer who breaks the law will, in fact, be held accountable. "
Clinton concurred with Sanders, and said that police forces most be reformed so that they do good for the people who they are "sworn to protect."
After addressing police abuses, Clinton said the next step would be to take care of incarceration rates by going after systemic racism in jobs, education, etc.
Adding on to Clinton's point, Sanders added that taking away mandatory sentencing, demilitarizing local police departments and making sure officers reflect the diversity of the areas they serve are necessary steps in solving the issues between law enforcement and African American populations.
"When we have more people in jail, disproportionally African American and Latino, than China does, a communist authoritarian society four times our size—here's my promise: at the end of my first term as president, we will not have more people in jail than any other country. We will invest in education and jobs for our kids, not in incarceration or more jails," Sanders said.
Clinton was then asked what she would do as president to ease race relations that President Obama was not able to do, but she disagreed with the idea that President Obama has not made headway in regards to race issues.
"We have to build on an honest conversation about where we go next," Clinton said. "We now have much more information about what must be done to fix our criminal justice system…It's going to be my responsibility to make sure we move forward to solve these problems that are now out in the open…"
When the question was turned over to Sanders, he said that African American and Latino populations were two of the hardest hit communities in the Wall Street collapse, and the poverty it induced exposed much of the institutionalized racism in the U.S.
By taxing the wealthy, Sanders said, as president, he would improve race relations by providing jobs, education and a better chance for vulnerable groups to have equal opportunities.
The debate then took another turn to examine issues surrounding immigration.
The first question went to Sanders, who was asked if undocumented immigrants should fear deportation.
Sanders said he agreed with President Obama's action to pass executive orders protecting undocumented families, but said he would go further and work towards a path to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented workers in the country.
Similarly, Clinton said she supported President Obama's executive action, and believes in comprehensive immigration reform.
She also pointed out that in 2007, Sanders voted against comprehensive immigration reform, which she supported.
"Yeah, I did vote against it," Sanders responded. "I voted against it because the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other groups, said that guest worker programs that were embedded in this agreement were akin to slavery."
The next topic covered in the debate examined the predicament of senior citizens in the country.
"I have long supported the proposition that we should lift the cap on taxable income coming into the Social Security trust fund, starting at $250,000," Sanders said, while also arguing that Clinton cannot say the same.
"If elected president, I will do everything I can to expand Social Security benefits," he said.
Clinton similarly stated that she wants to funnel more money into Social Security, but she wants to focus on "the groups that need the most help first."
The debate quickly shifted to challenge Clinton's most prominent campaign contributors.
In response, Clinton emphasized the fact that, like Sanders, she too has many small donors.
Sanders then criticized Clinton for receiving donations from Wall Street, to which she pointed out that, in 2008, President Obama received more donations from Wall Street than any other candidate on the Democratic side in history.
"When it mattered, he stood up, and he took on Wall Street…Let's not in any way imply here that either President Obama or myself would, in any way, not take on any vested interest…" Clinton argued.
The next topic covered was foreign policy.
The first question for Clinton asked if the U.S. is ready for the next homeland attack.
"We have to go after this both abroad and at home," Clinton responded, noting that defense-wise, the U.S. is stronger than it used to be, but a constant effort is needed for it to remain strong.
She went on to mention the importance of making American Muslims feeling "invited and welcomed" in the United States.
"I think an area…where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change…We can overthrow dictators all over the world…but the point about foreign policy is not just to know that you can overthrow a terrible dictator, it's to understand what happens the day after," Sanders said in response to the question.
He attributed poorly planned political vacuums where dictators once lead to the rise of the Islamic State.
Throughout their debate on foreign policy, Sanders criticized Clinton's past judgment on various foreign affairs issues, while Clinton emphasized her experience.
The next question focused on issues with Russia and Syria.
Sanders responded by saying it is necessary to meet Putin's aggressive actions with a similarly aggressive response.
Clinton then argued for a cease-fire and a political resolution that would bring "the parties at stake together."
She also said she disagreed with Sanders about involving Iranian troops in Syria, a decision she said would be a "grave mistake."
When discussing the Syrian refugee crisis, the candidates were asked what the U.S. should do to help the refugees.
"I think our role in NATO, our support for the EU, our willingness to take refugees, so long as they are thoroughly vetted…we do, as the United States, have to support our friends, our allies in Europe," Clinton said. "We have to stand with them. We have to provide financial support to them."
"Given our history as a nation that has been a beacon of hope for the depressed, for the downtrodden… I very strongly disagree with the Republican candidates," Sanders said.
Sanders said working closely with Europe is necessary in dealing with the refugee crisis.
The final argument the two candidates had in the debate centered around Sanders' support, or, in Clinton's opinion, lack of support for the President.
Clinton equated Sanders' past criticisms of President Obama to those she would expect from Republicans, which Sanders labeled as "a low blow" and "unfair" when considering how he has supported Obama over the years.
He went on to say, "…the last I heard, we lived in a democratic society. The last I hear, a United States senator had the right to disagree with a President, including a President who has done such an extraordinary job."
The heated debate marks an extremely tense race between the two Democratic candidates, which USC Annenberg Media will continue to follow closely.