DURHAM, New Hampshire — Thursday's Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC offered the clearest, rawest, and most specific examination of two fundamentally different philosophies about the character and future of the Democratic Party voters have seen yet.
Not only was it the first one-on-one debate between front-runner Hillary Clinton and insurgent Bernie Sanders, but it came at time when the candidates are finally ready to hash out the core questions of what it means to be a Democrat.
Seven years of control of the White House has built up fundamental divisions within about who the party should represent and what it should do.
Clinton represents one view, calling for continuity and pragmatism, while Sanders represents the polar opposite, with his outspoken calls for "revolution."
Guided by moderators Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, the candidates articulated the most cogent representations of both arguments so far this campaign.
Clinton's aides and allies have complained about Sanders being unfair to their candidate. But Clinton herself walked into the debate hall Thursday night wanting to get something off her chest.
"Sen. Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I've tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be. But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to - you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought," she said.
"And I just absolutely reject that, Senator. And I really don't think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you've got something to say, say it directly," she said.
It was all windup for her final punch: "So I think it's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out," she said.