Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton did not have to answer any questions about the main issue dogging her campaign during an MSNBC presidential forum Friday night.
Clinton and her two underdog challengers – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – took turns in interviews with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at Winthrop University.
While the liberal political anchor pushed candidates to answer some questions when their responses missed the mark, Maddow did not ask Clinton about the ongoing federal investigation into her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Questions about Clinton’s leadership of the State Department when terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, top the Republican presidential campaign agenda.
Sanders, himself, has said the federal probe should continue.
Republicans have accused Clinton of lying to the public about the cause of the Benghazi attacks.
Testifying in late October before a U.S. House committee led by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, Clinton was asked about an email that she sent her daughter Chelsea Clinton the night of the attacks, saying an Al-Qaida-affiliated group was responsible for the assault.
That story contradicts the public narrative that Clinton and other State Department officials gave after the attacks, saying the assault was a protest of an “inflammatory” video posted online.
But the topic did not come up in Friday night’s forum and was not a concern to some of those who waited in a long line to see the event.
During the Winthrop forum, Clinton did weigh in on a possible death penalty for Dylann Roof, who is charged with nine counts of murder in the racially motivated shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June.
Saying some crimes are “heinous” enough to deserve the death penalty, Clinton said of the Roof case, “That’s the kind of case that would cause people to have a legitimate discussion about whether or not it’s appropriate.”
Asked about the incident at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, when a sheriff’s deputy forcibly removed a student from her desk, tossing her across the floor, Clinton said: “What happened in the school ... was just appalling to me. Adults should be trained to use nonviolent, non-confrontational measures in dealing with school discipline problems whatever they may be.”
Clinton has an enormous lead in February’s S.C. presidential primary, polling at 71 percent support among likely Democratic voters, according to a Winthrop Poll released Wednesday. Sanders trails with 15 percent and O’Malley with 2 percent.
O’Malley took time on one question to talk about South Carolina.
Asked whether Sanders’ campaign has been about “debating the pros and cons of socialism,” O’Malley pivoted and talked about issues that have rocked the Palmetto State this year and the need for bi-partisanship.
The former Maryland governor talked about lining up at the Statehouse with the public to view the body of slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African-Americans slain at Emanuel.
O’Malley said of the visit, which he did not announce and which S.C. Democratic lawmakers cite as a sign of his character, “Nobody was asking themselves, ‘Are you a Democrat, or are you a Republican?’ When people got wiped out by floods in lower Richland, nobody went to help a neighbor and said, ‘Before I help you with your flooded-out house, you need to tell me: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?’
“Our country needs new leadership in order to move out of these divided times,” said the former mayor of Baltimore.
Maddow pressed the candidates to explain why Democrats have struggled to win and hold onto elected offices in South Carolina and other Southern states.
Sanders said the Democratic Party must be a 50-state party and “cannot give up” on Southern states.
Before the forum, Lisa and Al Violanti of Fort Mill said Sanders needs to explain to voters what it means that he is a “democratic socialist,” something Sanders plans to do in a speech that has been pushed back until after the Democrats’ second debate, Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.
2016 in SC
Democratic presidential hopefuls in the Palmetto State on Saturday:
1:15 p.m. – The S.C. Legislative Black Caucus hosts a town-hall meeting with Clinton in Orangeburg at Claflin University’s Ministers' Hall, 400 Magnolia St. Doors open at 11 a.m.
7 p.m. – Clinton will address S.C. Equality in Columbia at the Columbia Marriott, 1200 Hampton St.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders
9:30 a.m. – Keynote speaker at the 2015 Southern regional meeting of the National Federation of Democratic Women at Whitton Auditorium, Vivian Moore Carroll Hall, 883 Ebenezer Ave., Rock Hill.
2 p.m. – Sanders will announce his S.C. campaign committee at the Columbia Conference Center, 169 Laurelhurst Ave. The group is made up of 25 local and state elected officials, faith and Black Lives Matter activists, county party chairs, labor activists and student organizers.
7 p.m. – Sanders will hold a town-hall meeting in Aiken at the USC Aiken Convocation Center, 375 Robert M. Bell Parkway. Doors open at 6 p.m.