UPDATE: 11:05 p.m. EST -- Last to take the stage Monday night was former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She spoke highly of the campaigns that rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley had run so far.
“It’s a great country, despite what one other Republican said, and on the Democratic side, we are having a spirited debate on the issues we care about. ... The other side isn’t talking issues; it’s talking insults,” Clinton said.
The candidate cited her 40-year record of fighting inequality -- whether racial, gender or homophobic -- in response to a question about how sure voters can be that income inequality will be a top issue for her.
When asked by a supporter about how big of an interventionist she would be as president, Clinton was firm that military action should be a last choice, emphasizing that she wants no U.S. ground troops in Syria and Iraq and touting her foreign policy experience.
“I have a much longer history than one vote, which I’ve said was a mistake,” Clinton said in reference to her vote in favor of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002 while she served as a U.S. senator from New York.
Commenting on discrimination against Muslims in the United States, Clinton said American Muslims deserve better treatment from their fellow citizens.
“One of the most distressing aspects of this campaign has been the language of the Republican candidates … that insults, demeans, denigrates other people,” Clinton said, referring to comments by GOP front-runner Donald Trump. "He started on Mexicans, he’s currently on Muslims. It’s not only shameful and offensive, which it is; it’s also dangerous.”
Regarding how she would deal with the Benghazi controversy in the general election, Clinton argued that her best defense is the truth. "This is only still an issue because the Republicans want to keep it an issue," Clinton said.
UPDATE: 10:23 p.m. EST -- Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was the second presidential candidate to speak Monday night at CNN’s Democratic town hall event.
When asked how he planned to ensure racial equality -- when his record as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor seems to contradict his platform to fight racism -- he argued that he greatly increased drug treatment, drove down fatal police-involved shootings, restored voting rights and made his state the first south of the Mason-Dixon line to repeal the death penalty.
O’Malley said that young voters should be most concerned about climate change, drawing strong applause from the audience, and cited his plan for the United States to run on a 100 percent, renewable energy–powered electric grid by 2050.
"Climate change is the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in 100 years,” O’Malley said.
He cited one of his strategic goals is full employment for U.S. military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Touching on the economy, O’Malley also argued for a minimum wage above the poverty line, establishing equal pay for equal work regardless of gender and passing comprehensive immigration reform. The crowd erupted in cheers.
“Hold strong at your caucuses. ... I know this is a tough fight, but I’ve always been drawn to a tough fight,” O’Malley said in a message directed toward his supporters, arguing that America “needs new leadership.”
In his closing statement, O’Malley seemed to take a discreet jab a Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“The enduring symbol of this country is not the barbed-wire fence; it is the Statue of Liberty, ” O’Malley said.
UPDATE: 9:46 p.m. EST -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the first Democratic candidate to take the stage Monday night during CNN's Democratic presidential town hall. “Our message has resonated much faster, much further than I thought it would. And I think what the American people are perceiving is there’s something very wrong in this country," Sanders said.
He defended his proposed tax hike, arguing it would be offset by eliminating private healthcare premiums and dismissed criticisms that his plan would raise taxes on the wealthy, CNN reported.
“I demand that Wall Street starts paying its fair share of taxes,” Sanders said, spurring applause from the audience.
Sanders touted his 100 percent pro-abortion rights voting record when questioned how he could better fight for women’s rights than Hillary Clinton, who if elected would be the first female president. In regard to pay inequality for women, “that’s just old-fashioned sexism,” Sanders said. He also argued that he and Clinton disagree on a “very important issue” for women, Social Security, which he said he wants to expand by lifting the cap on taxable income.
“Ask Hillary Clinton if she’s prepared to lift the cap on taxable income," Sanders said.
Sanders also reminded voters that Clinton had voted for the war in Iraq, while he did not, and urged the audience to check out his views on foreign policy and how he would deal with the Islamic State group.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are slated to take the stage Monday night at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, for a town hall forum. The event will be aired on CNN from 9 to 11 p.m. EST, and will also be live-streamed at CNN.com, but viewers will have to log in with a cable account in order to view it.
The town hall, hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party and Drake University, comes just a week before the state’s caucuses. Prior to the forum, polls showed a tight race between Sanders and Clinton, with Sanders’ poll numbers climbing in Iowa and New Hampshire. A Democratic Poll of Polls has found Sanders slightly ahead of Clinton, 46 percent to 44 percent, and in New Hampshire, recent polling has put Sanders at 50 percent or higher, CNN reported.
Unlike a debate, the three candidates in Monday night’s town hall are expected to take the stage one at a time to answer questions from an audience as well as CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. Each candidate is scheduled to have 30 minutes onstage at Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium. The town hall will mark the biggest audience the candidates are likely to see before Iowa’s caucuses, Vox reported.
“We are honored to partner with CNN on their town hall with our three fantastic Democratic candidates,” said Dr. Andy McGuire, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, CNN reported. "With this event airing just one week before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, it’s an incredible opportunity for Iowans to see our candidates detail their plans to move our country forward and their vision for Iowa and the nation.”
There are only two more Democratic debates scheduled following Monday night’s town hall: one for Feb. 11 in Milwaukee and one for March 9 in Miami.