DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) - With France declaring war Saturday in the wake of terrorist attacks, foreign policy was an unavoidable focus of the debates for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Though billed by host CBS News as focusing on the U.S. economy and income inequality, Hillary Clinton scored points right from the start by exhibiting her command and experience as former secretary of the U.S. State Department.
"This election is not only about electing a president," Clinton said in an opening statement that focused on global security. "It's also about choosing our next commander-in-chief. Our country deserves no less. It cannot be an American fight. We will support those who take the fight to ISIS."
Word going around the spin room in the hours before the debate was that the Bernie Sanders campaign had jockeyed unsuccessfully to avoid a greater shift toward foreign policy.
In his opening statement, Sanders expressed disgust for the Paris attacks that left 129 people dead Friday but quickly pivoted to his prepared remarks on income inequality.
Meanwhile both Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley dedicated their entire opening statements to the attacks.
The opening focus on terrorism was a big missed opportunity for Sanders, whose campaign had to be looking forward to an evening focused on wage inequality and Wall Street regulation, the issues on which Sen. Sanders best connects to voters. With the focus of the first 38 minutes diverted to foreign policy and terrorism, Sanders struggled to score as many points as did Clinton and O'Malley, who turned in a surprisingly strong performance.
That the evening occurred at all was uncertain after Friday's tragic events put the Western world on high alert. Heightened security at Drake University on Saturday included barricaded parts of the campus off to both foot and car traffic, but none of the measures seemed extraordinary.
With the region basking in unseasonably warm and sunny weather, Clinton's team arrived at the campus still running strong from the Oct. 13 debate in Las Vegas and from her sturdy performance during the much-publicized House committee hearings on Benghazi.
The scene outside the debate hall was about what you'd expect from a pleasant and somewhat sleepy Midwestern college campus on an autumn Saturday.
Sanders fans enjoyed a fiery speech by activist Cornel West from the back of a truck, but a raucous gathering of O'Malley supporters, enlivened with bullhorns and cheers cribbed from the American Outlaw soccer fan club, seemed to give the former governor a much-needed boost.
O'Malley has consistently polled in the single-digits, but his strong performance during the two-hour debate Saturday could changed should earn him some support.
Moderator John Dickerson cut off O'Malley often, but the candidate was forceful and commanding at times, much more than in last month's debate, and he received loud applause on several occasions.
"This actually is America's fight. It cannot be solely America's fight," O'Malley said early on, making hay while redirecting a pre-prepared Clinton sound byte on how to fight the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks earlier in the day.