Everyone is saying Hillary Clinton won the debate — but some focus groups might undermine that claim

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The Case That Bernie Sanders Won the Debate

The overwhelming media and political consensus was that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate.

Clinton was crisp and polished, making almost no mistakes throughout the evening. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), her chief rival, was at times flustered, especially while addressing gun control early on.

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But a focus group of Democratic voters, conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, could undermine the takeaway that Clinton won.

A majority of that focus group — as well as those conducted by CNN and Fusion — said they were most impressed with Sanders.

See moments from Tuesday's debate:

26 PHOTOS
Democratic Debate Oct 13
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Everyone is saying Hillary Clinton won the debate — but some focus groups might undermine that claim
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Hillary Rodham Clinton points to a supporter after the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland, participates in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg
Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee take the stage for a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The candidates participated in the party's first presidential debate with Jim Webb and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
** CORRECTS FROM JIM WEBB TO LINCOLN CHAFEE ** Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb listens during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidates former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, left, listens as former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, listens as Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton talk before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton waves as she takes the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Democratic presidential candidates Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee take the stage for a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The five candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton takes the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. On the far left is moderator Anderson Cooper. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Guests including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (4th R) attend a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee takes part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton appear on screens in the press room as journalists cover the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 13, 2015. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton will finally square off with top rival Bernie Sanders in the party's first debate of the 2016 campaign as she seeks to prove she is the candidate to beat. AFP PHOTO/ FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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In a brief Fox News segment, Luntz started off by asking the participants who was supporting Clinton at the start of the debate. About half raised their hands. He then asked who was still supporting Clinton — only a few said they were.

Instead, the bulk of the group said Sanders won. And their favorite moment was the same back-and-forth that many pundits said delivered Clinton her biggest win: Sanders declaring that he was sick of hearing about her "damn" email controversy rather than skewering her for it.

SEE ALSO: Sanders refuses to bash Clinton over email scandal ... and the crowd goes wild

"I thought that was very respectable," one Democrat told Luntz.

"It's just such a non-issue. And I'm glad that he addressed it like that and got it out of the way," said another.



"What I liked is that he was stronger on the issue that she was, which scared me," said a third.

Republicans, eager to ding the front-runner, jumped at the opportunity to push the narrative that Clinton actually lost the debate.

The national Republican Party emailed reporters the three focus groups as well as internet-search and social-media analytics to argue that Sanders was the big winner. Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short pointed out that the media said Clinton won most of her 2008 debates against now-President Barack Obama too.

"Hillary Clinton may be the strongest debater on the stage," Short wrote to reporters, "but it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters."

Watch the Luntz focus group below:

Flashback -- Check out images of the Nixon-Kennedy debate:

17 PHOTOS
Nixon-Kennedy first debate, 1960
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Everyone is saying Hillary Clinton won the debate — but some focus groups might undermine that claim
Sen. John F. Kennedy goes over his notes and Vice President Richard Nixon stands in rear of a television studio in Chicago on Sept. 26, 1960 before they debated campaign issues. (AP Photo)
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy shake hands, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago, as they hired television studio to take part in their debate. (AP Photo)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon is shown in a televison image as he stands at lectern during the nationally televised first of four presidential debates with Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic nominee, held in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. For the first time in US history a debate between presidential candidates is shown on television. (AP Photo)
Sen. John Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate, slaps hands together, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago as he spoke in his debate tonight with Vice President Richard Nixon at a Chicago television studio. (AP Photo)
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago, as they hired television studio to take part in their debate. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 1960 file photo, moderator Howard K. Smith sits between, Sen. John Kennedy, left, and Vice President Richard Nixon as they appear on television studio monitor set during their debate in Chicago. The Kennedy image, the "mystique" that attracts tourists and historians alike, did not begin with his presidency and is in no danger of ending 50 years after his death. The multimedia story began in childhood with newsreels and newspaper coverage of the smiling Kennedy brood, and it continued with books, photographs, movies and finally television, notably the telegenic JFKâs presidential debates with Nixon. (AP Photo)
FILE - This Sept. 26, 1960 black-and-white file photo shows Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon wipes his face with a handkerchief during the nationally televised with Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kennedy, in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. In presidential politics, everybody's searching for "the moment." The campaigns don't know when or how it will come, but they watch for something _ awkward words or an embarrassing image _ that can break through and become the defining symbol of the other guy's flaws. Now all eyes are on the series of three presidential debates that starts Wednesday. (AP Photo, File)
Jacqueline Kennedy tunes in the television in her home in Hyannis Port, Mass., Sept. 26, 1960, just before her husband John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon were to enter into a nationally telecast debate. Mrs. Kennedy was also host to a group of Democratic officials and friends at a TV watching party. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left, and Republican Richard Nixon stand at lecterns as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio, Sept. 26, 1960. Panelists are seated in foreground and moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center. (AP Photo)
Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate, watches her husband debate with Vice President Richard Nixon on television in her home in Hyannis Port, Mass., Sept. 26, 1960. Mrs. Kennedy was host to a group of Democratic leaders at a television watching party. Woman at right is unidentified. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Jacqueline Kennedy, left center, sits in her living room with a group of Democrats watching her husband, John F. Kennedy, presidential candidate, on television debating domestic affairs with Vice President Richard Nixon, at her Hyannis Port, Mass., home, Sept. 26, 1960. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left and Republican Richard Nixon, right, as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio on Sept. 26, 1960. Moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center. (AP Photo)
Presidential candidates Sen. John F. Kennedy, left, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon are shown following their nationally televised first of four presidential debates at a television studio in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. (AP Photo)
DORCHESTER - MARCH 24: Dan Rather, anchorman for the CBS Evening News and correspondent who covered the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, addressed the Kennedy Library Forum, 'The Impact of Television on the Civil Rights Movement.' Before the panel he toured the museum. He is viewing a reproduction of the Chicago television studio where the Sept. 26, 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate took place. It was the first televised presidential debate. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: ROSTENKOWSKI--At his home on North Noble Street in Chicago, former House Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski shows a reporter a sketch of the Kennedy-Nixon debate on Sept. 26, 1960. He said that he was one of the 30 or so people in the Studio One at the Chicago CBS building. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: ROSTENKOWSKI--At his home on North Noble Street in Chicago, former House Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski shows a reporter a sketch of the Kennedy-Nixon debate on Sept. 26, 1960. He said that he was one of the 30 or so people in the Studio One at the Chicago CBS building, and made reference to the scores of photographers and media that are present during recent debates. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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SEE ALSO: Everyone's declaring Hillary Clinton the big winner of the debate

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