Did Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders seal deal in South Carolina?

Hillary Clinton discusses plan to reduce student debt
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Hillary Clinton discusses plan to reduce student debt 03:39

Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders turned in a performance at the CNN Town Hall that would seal deal with South Carolina voters
  • He says Sanders slams inequality but avoids foreign policy; Clinton creates new problems for herself by caginess on speech transcripts

Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Live from South Carolina, it's ... Those Two. Although Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had their chance tonight to speak directly with people in South Carolina at CNN's Town Hall, neither of their performances alone seemed strong enough to close the deal with undecided voters. They both at times called to mind performers in long-running shows that simply seem tired.

Neither candidate had any major stumbles -- or high points -- tonight. Much of what we heard we have heard before from both candidates. Probably the greatest revelation of the evening was that folks in South Carolina like to ask long, slow questions, often with an elaborate preface. One lawyer, asking about the Supreme Court, deserves some type of award for longest question ever asked in a presidential forum.
Sanders: Nobody asks for my birth certificate
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    Sanders: Nobody asks for my birth certificate

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Sanders: Nobody asks for my birth certificate 00:55
It was interesting to see that both candidates have clearly borrowed pages from each other's playbooks. Sanders was quick to invoke President Barack Obama's name, which has been Clinton's tactic as of late, while Clinton returned several times to the problem of income inequality, which is Sanders' signature issue.
    This was Sanders' last, best chance to make a strong case for his candidacy to voters in the Palmetto State, where he lags in the polls behind Clinton. But while he certainly hit his points about what he describes as our broken financial system and rigged economy, he seemed to have a low-energy night. He did not appear to be the same Sanders that has electrified huge crowds across the country.
    To be fair, who could blame him?
    Time and time again, Sanders has faced (and answered) the same questions about how he is going to pay for his college-for-all plan and universal health coverage. As usual, he explained how he hopes to do so with a combination of taxes on Wall Street and a raise in taxes that, he says, will still leave most Americans better off overall.
    Why is it that these questions continually come up while no one ever asks about how we are going to pay for our wars and overseas military operations?
    Clinton: Criminal justice problems can't be ignored
    Clinton: Criminal justice problems can't be ignored

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    Clinton: Criminal justice problems can't be ignored 01:33
    Sanders was at his best when he called out the unparalleled obstruction and disrespect that President Obama has endured. Reminding viewers that his father was born in Poland, he said, "No one ever asked for my birth certificate." This was a comment sure to resonate with South Carolina's large numbers of African-American voters.
    And despite his rather listless performance, he seemed utterly sincere in closing when he pointed out that he liked Clinton -- and that he was proud to run a principled campaign. Bravo Bernie.
    For her part, Clinton seemed to cover a broader range of topics. She fielded foreign policy questions -- all in her wheelhouse (if only Sanders could have had those questions!), and she spoke frankly about systemic racism in society.
    Sanders on paid Wall Street speeches: 'There ain't none'
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      Sanders on paid Wall Street speeches: 'There ain't none'

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    Social media certainly perked up when she received two questions, one from moderator Chris Cuomo, about Beyonce's "Formation" video -- which has been the subject of controversy because of its supposed anti-police theme. The burning question remains: Did Clinton actually see the video?
    Still, Clinton punted when it came to the recurring question of whether she would release the transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street corporations. She had previously said that she would look into it, and that she would do so if other candidates did the same with their past speeches.
    Tonight, she elaborated that she would release the transcripts of her speeches only when all of the other candidates, including Republicans, did so. This evasiveness will only prolong this controversy, and an experienced politician like Clinton should know better. Besides, it is unlikely that anything in those speeches could be as damning as her refusal to be transparent about them.
    Missing from tonight's town hall was any discussion of immigration -- surprising, since South Carolina has seen its Hispanic population grow by 154% from 2000 to 2011. Another missed opportunity was any mention of a new Gallup poll which found that the top reactions of the American public to Clinton and Sanders are "dishonest" and "socialist," respectively.