Get ready for Round 2.
Thursday’s presidential debate will mark only the second time that Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have engaged in a one-on-one faceoff. The first time, a week ago, was a combative debate that left both sides reeling from attacks.
With the Iowa and New Hampshire contests showing a split in the Democratic Party, expect another energetic back and forth between the candidates over their different philosophies and approaches to governing.
Polls still show Clinton with an advantage nationally and holding commanding leads in the next two states, Nevada and South Carolina
The two-hour debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, airing on PBS starting at 9 p.m. EST, will be the last before a series of contests, in Nevada and South Carolina as well as on Super Tuesday, March 1. The debate will stream live on PBS’ NewsHour’s website.
Here’s what to look for.
Clinton must decide how she will alter her strategy two days after her 20-point loss to Sanders in New Hampshire, a state where she has enjoyed success in the past, and a week after her disappointing razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses.
“We’re going to take stock: what works, what doesn’t work,” Clinton said on MSNBC this week. “We’re moving into a different phase of the campaign.”
Her concession speech Tuesday night offered hints at a new message to persuade voters that she understands them and can make their lives better. “People have every right to be angry,” she said. “But they’re also hungry – they’re hungry for solutions.”
She will continue to look to the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina, where she expects to do better. She will campaign with African-American women who have lost children to gun violence and will tout her work investigating racial discrimination in Alabama and registering Hispanics to vote in Texas.
There are now vexing questions for the Clintons. How will the campaign react to the embarrassing loss? There are rumors and rumblings of internal conflict. And going more negative could backfire in this political climate.
Grant Reeher, political science professor at Syracuse University
Sanders on foreign policy
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, often seems a bit out of his element when speaking about foreign policy, especially when compared with Clinton, a former secretary of state.
Hours after the terrorist attack in November in Paris, Sanders barely mentioned terrorism in a debate when asked – totaling about 20 seconds – before switching back to his standard stump speech.
Last week, Democrats and Republicans alike panned his simplistic answers at the fifth debate, when he avoided answering a question about how long U.S. ground troops should stay in Afghanistan and fumbled a response about who led North Korea.
Time and time again, Sanders has acknowledged that Clinton has more experience in foreign policy. But he has said judgment matters too, as a way to note that Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, and he didn’t.
The United States faces complex issues around the globe, from battling the Islamic State to countering Russia’s aggression. Sanders should be better prepared to respond to foreign policy questions in this debate, unless he wants to completely cede that issue to Clinton.
She’s obviously going to want to stress that because she sees that as a strength for her and weakness for him.
David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Clinton’s foreign policy experience
Wall Street money
Clinton needs to find a better way to respond to criticism that she and her campaign accepted donations and speaking fees from Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs.
Last week, Clinton had been hammered for saying she did not regret accepting $675,000 for three speeches from Goldman Sachs. “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered,” she said with a shrug.
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She was better prepared for the criticism at the last debate, blasting Sanders for using “innuendos” to insinuate that she is beholden to Wall Street and touting her record of pushing back on the financial services industry even before the recession.
But she has been dogged for days about whether she would release transcripts of her speeches, including those from Wall Street firms, that earned her millions of dollars before she launched her second presidential run.
On Sunday, she said she would release the transcripts if everyone who had ever given a paid speech did too. That answer may not satisfy moderators – or voters.
In Nevada, home to the next Democratic contest Feb. 20, activists are pushing to raise the minimum wage, and may get the question on the ballot in November.
Democrats have been working to increase the federal minimum wage, but some, including Clinton and Sanders, disagree on the amount.
Sanders introduced legislation to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He called the current federal minimum wage – $7.25 an hour – “a starvation wage,” and said employees who worked 40 hours a week “have a right not to be living in poverty.”
Clinton prefers $12 an hour, saying she’s concerned a higher rate would be too much for rural areas or smaller cities that have lower costs of living. She does back local efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15. But she noted last July that “what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.”
Sanders and Clinton do not outright disagree on many policy positions. This might become an issue in Nevada, where voters may get a chance to weigh in on whether to gradually raise the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $13 over the next decade.