The Democratic candidates in the race for the United States presidency have met for their first major debate. Frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders headlined the encounter.
Gun control and capitalism were two of the issues tousled over by the declared Democratic candidates for the White House on Tuesday.
Frontrunner Hillary Clinton's early lead is being challenged by Sanders who has enjoyed rising ratings and a groundswell of support with his message of combating inequality and strengthening America's middle class - often citing the example of northern European countries.
"I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We're the United States of America," Clinton said.
Sanders, who describes himself as a "democratic socialist," said he did not subscribe to the capitalist system.
"Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don't," he said.
Tensions over gun control
Addressing the contentious issue of gun control, Clinton swooped in on Sanders to question him why he had voted to shield gunmakers and dealers from liability lawsuits.
Sanders responded saying his stance on gun control was a reflection of his representation of a rural state, describing the bill as "large and complicated."
"I was in the Senate at the same time," Clinton replied.
"It wasn't that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward," she quipped, adding that after almost a decade in the Senate, Sanders hadn't been tough enough on gun control.
"I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence," Clinton said.
"This has gone on too long, and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA (National Rifle Association)."
Clinton and Sanders shared a moment of political unity, however, when Sanders defended his rival over her controversial email practices as secretary of state.
"The American people are sick and tired are hearing about your damn emails," Sanders said, to which the Las Vegas applauded.
Reaching over to Sanders, Clinton thanked Sanders and shook his hand.
Little competition from other candidates
The two leading candidates were joined by three others looking for a breakthrough moment, having so far scored low in the polls: former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and former US Senator James Webb of Virginia.
Chafee, a former Republican, outlined his resume and record in his opening remarks.
"I'm very proud that in my almost thirty years of public service, I've had no scandals."
Missing from Tuesday's debate was Vice President Joe Biden. Debate organizers, CNN, had reserved a lectern for the vice president who is still considering whether to run for president in light of his son's recent death.
The debate was live-tweeted by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who seemed to spend more time re-tweeting compliments directed at him than analyzing his potential rivals.
According to a poll issued by Fox News on Tuesday, Clinton remains the clear favorite in the race, with support from 45 percent of probably Democratic voters.
Sanders has recently made gains on his main rival, however, and now sits second with 25 percent of the opinion poll.
Neither Chafee, Webb and O'Malley on the other hand have managed to reach 1 percent in the votes.
ksb, se/jr (AFP, Reuters, AP)