In an MSNBC-hosted event, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton debated Sen. Bernie Sanders for the second time this week, all for the love of New Hampshire voters. Next Tuesday’s primary has long assumed to be in Sanders’ hands. The narrowest of victories that Clinton won in the Iowa Caucus shows she’s got to buckle down and pretend that she thinks Sanders is a real threat.

There were clashes beginning with Sanders’ accusation that Clinton is part of the establishment. She took issue and pulled out the well-worn “but I’m a lady running for president!” card. Clinton hit Sanders on past votes against the Brady gun control bill and against the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s attempts at immigration reform.

Mostly the debate came down to a question of degrees. Clinton continues to paint herself as the grounded candidate with policy experience who can put her plans into action. In response to Sanders’ many audacious – what he calls revolutionary – plans, she delivered lines such as “I believe in affordable college, but not in free college.” As slippery and political as Clinton tends to be, she at least honestly stuck to her task as Ms. No-Fun. She was – as usual – the resident right-winger on the Democrat stage, and she admitted that no, the kids don’t yet like her as much as they like Uncle Bernie.

Sanders opened with a verbal beat-down of what he calls America’s “rigged economy” and its “corrupt campaign finance system.” He sang that tune for the vast majority of the two-hour debate. He really does seem like the leftist version of Ron Paul in terms of how younger people adore his heavy critiques of (crony) capitalism and his simple, on-point messaging. His antiwar bona fides are relatively shiny, but he rarely polishes them except when hitting Clinton for her 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war. There he did have a killer dig, saying that the vote shows “experience is not the only point – judgement is” when it comes to picking the right president.

A lot of favored Millennial concerns were not mentioned. Clinton said racism, sexism and homophobia are important issues in her opening statement. Sanders naturally worried over burdensome student loan debt. However, technology and privacy were ignored. Sanders made a single comment about Wall Street criminals going free while kids arrested with marijuana get records. Sanders opposes the death penalty, and Clinton, well, thinks it is for special occasions.

Mostly, it was war, the economy and a rather frustrating meta-debate over who was more electable and who was more pure and progressive.

The lucrative speechifying that Clinton has done for Sanders’ enemy Goldman Sachs did come up. With impressive stoicism, Clinton swore that the millions she has earned in such places have not influenced her political choices. She then neatly dodged the moderators’ question of whether she would be willing to release transcripts of all of her paid speeches. Once again, Sanders refused to comment on Clinton’s email scandal.

Fundamentally, the candidates pulled off the whole “we respect each other, even if you just insulted me” vibe a little better than the Republicans do. But there’s still the question for New Hampshire, and for the country: do you want to dream of free stuff with Sanders, or be deadly, vaguely-Nixonian-serious with Clinton?

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Twitter: @lucystag.

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