After months of mostly ignoring Bernie Sanders, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has begun engaging her chief rival after polls show that the race in early nominating states is tightening.
Clinton and her aides are criticizing his record on gun control, his position on health care and his electability in the presidential race.
Clinton and Sanders, as well as Martin O’Malley, appeared at the Iowa Brown & Black Democratic Forum at the Drake University in Des Moines Monday night, answering questions about education, criminal justice, health care and immigration at the nation’s oldest minority forum.
At the event, Clinton called Sanders her “friend” but faulted him for not releasing a detailed tax plans just weeks before voting begins.
Sanders said that he had noticed that Clinton has been engaging him more than ever before. “It could be the inevitable candidate for Democratic nomination may not be so inevitable today,” he said.
Sanders said that he respect Clinton, “but basically what we are looking at is an establishment politician.”
In recent days, much of Clinton’s criticism has centered on Sanders’ vote to shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits.
“When it really mattered, Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby,” said Clinton last week when she called into MSNBC's "Hardball.”
She mentioned the issue at an event in Waterloo earlier in the day and then, during the forum, her campaign sent out video of Sanders saying he stands by his vote.
“Like many pieces of legislation, like many of the 10,000 votes that I’ve cast, bills are complicated,” Sanders said. “Throughout my political career I have ended up with a D- voting record from the NRA. I have voted to improve and extend the instant background check, I voted against the gun show loophole, and I also believe we should make this straw men situation a federal crime. And I believe that we need a revolution in mental health so that the people who need mental treatment can get it now, not two years from now.”
Three weeks before voting begins in the presidential contest, Clinton and Sanders are locked in tight races in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll.
Clinton holds a slim lead over Sanders, 48 percent to 45 percent, among likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa while Sanders leads Clinton, 50 percent to 46 percent, among likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire. Both are within the poll’s margins of error.
Clinton’s campaign sent out a fundraising email this week saying the “primary race in New Hampshire is neck and neck.”
“A loss there could be a sharp blow to all the work we've done. We've got the momentum to carry this win, but our folks on the ground still need the resources to put us over the finish line," Clinton wrote. “There's a lot riding on the New Hampshire primary in just one month. It's going to be close, but I'm ready to do this.”
Clinton has struggled to match the passion generated by Sanders, who has drawn massive crowds to rallies and has amassed millions of dollars from small donors. Sanders outperforms Clinton in hypothetical general-election matchups in Iowa and New Hampshire, both swing states, primarily because he does better with independents.
In an interview Monday, Vice President Joe Biden told CNN that part of the reason Clinton continues to struggle is because she is new to the income equality fight that Sanders has championed.
“I think that that Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real and he has credibility on it and that is the absolute enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people with a middle class now being able to be shown being left out,” Biden said. “It's relatively new for Hillary to talk about that. Hillary’s focus has been other things up to now and that's been Bernie’s no one questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues.”