Bernie Sanders won the Democratic Presidential debate before the first question was even asked. He won it in the first ten minutes, when the five candidates were each asked to introduce themselves. The other four candidates all considered this an opportunity to talk about themselves. They each bragged about their background, their credentials, and their family. Hillary Clinton fit right in with this self-centered approach, right down to touting her grandmother and grandchild.
Only Bernie Sanders broke this mold. He used his entire two minutes to talk not about himself, but about the issues that matter: income inequality, campaign finance, climate change, and the excessive incarceration of blacks and Latinos. His positions on the issues themselves were his introduction to the people. He spoke with passion and clarity. He set himself apart, above and beyond the conventional approach of the other four candidates. The entire rest of the debate was nothing but an extended series of footnotes to this decisive moment.
Why, then, did all the Washington insiders declare that Clinton won the debate? They did so because they evaluated it by the same conventional, superficial standards which Clinton abided by. Was she friendly and personable? Check. Was she at times tough and aggressive? Check. Was she confident and in command of her facts? Check. But was she decisively dedicated to articulating passionate positions on policy, rather than to making a "good impression"? No way. As palatable as she made herself seem, she was nothing more than vanilla ice cream, through and through. Sanders was chocolate rocky road, the authentic personification of progressive values, and the difference was unmistakable.
This is why the focus groups of actual voters on CNN, Fox, and elsewhere declared Sanders the winner of the debate, not Clinton. Actual voters are not looking for conformity to a conventional standard, however appealing it may appear. Actual voters want the real thing, not the appearance of it. Sanders' authenticity was unmistakable.