Editor's Note: Below is a brief excerpt from Potomac Research Group Senior Analyst JT Taylor's Morning Bullets sent to institutional clients each morning.
DEMocratic DEBATE DEBRIEF:
For the second debate in a row, Sanders was relentlessly on-message -- taking only minor detours to acknowledge a question before pivoting back to his Wall Street refrain. The party's divide on purity vs pragmatism was on display the whole night, if only indirectly acknowledged until the closing argument -- Clinton waited until the very end to break out her "I'm not a single-issue candidate, and I don't believe we're a single-issue country" shiv. To that point though, she spent most of the night on Bernie's turf, and wasn't able to pin him down for long at all on other topics, especially on foreign policy where his lack of depth remains a liability.
Much of Clinton's messaging was tailored to shore up her support in Nevada and South Carolina, where African Americans haven't gravitated towards Sanders. Clinton's Barack bear-hug and accusations of Sanders' disloyalty are sticky. Her hits on immigration, along with the not-subtle Ted Kennedy mentions, reinforced the "hey, this guy isn't really one of us" subtext -- squarely aimed at core Democrats and the ever-expanding ranks of Latino voters.
Jeb Bush has promised a show at tomorrow night's debate, accusing his rivals this week of being in the "witness protection program" when it came to taking on Trump. With Marco Rubio reeling, Bush has an opportunity, however small, to get a foothold and assert himself as the anti-Trump standard-bearer. His shot at the nomination is still bleak, but since Iowa he's looked increasingly confident on the trail -- or at least no longer afraid of losing. Bush still has plenty of money on hand and access to the big-ticket establishment donors, but he's got to give them a reason to believe he'll do something effective with it.
Looking ahead to tomorrow night, Rubio desperately needs an exceptional performance to beat Bush/Kasich and regain control of the third-place spot AND erase doubts about his viability; the bullseye on his back hasn't moved and he'll be targeted by Bush, Ted Cruz and of course -- Donald Trump. Bush will gamble on going for Trump's throat, which will likely provoke a fight given Trump's dismissal of Jeb's attacks last time around. Will Kasich, with his upbeat message, get lost in the noise -- or will he find a way to engage without getting bloodied?