Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred in a debate Thursday over who was closer to President Barack Obama, a critical icon as they vied for the support of the same coalition of voters that sent Obama to the White House.
Locked in a surprisingly close race for the nomination, Clinton and Sanders grew increasingly aggressive through the two-hour debate, bickering over big money and war while vying for voter blocs crucial in coming states. Both went out of their way to appeal to the diverse populations of the next two nominating states – Nevada and South Carolina – where Clinton has the edge, as well as those with large black populations that vote on Super Tuesday, March 1.
They also competed for young voters and women, who helped Sanders this week win a landslide in the New Hampshire primary.
The most combative moment came in the final minutes when they clashed over who best will carry out Obama’s legacy. “One of us ran against Barack Obama,” Sanders charged. “I was not that candidate.”
Clinton, the one-time clear front-runner, altered her message since her landslide loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, looking to appeal to the many Americans, especially the young, who are disillusioned by Washington and are searching for something different.
In doing so, she took a play out of Sanders’ playbook, even using the same exact words he does, focusing on the economy, Wall Street and campaign finance.
“I know a lot of Americans are angry about the economy. And for good cause.” Clinton said. “Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years. There aren’t enough good-paying jobs, especially for young people. And yes, the economy is rigged in favor of those at the top.”
Sanders stuck to his same message that he could rid the country of the so-called billionaire class better than an establishment politician with ties to Wall Street while focusing much of his criticism on Republicans.
Clinton accused Sanders of calling Obama “weak” and “disappointing” and even said he tried to find a primary opponent for him in 2012.
Sanders bristled at what he called a “low blow” and said he and Obama are “friends” who campaigned for each other.
“Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president,” he said.
Clinton sought to embrace Obama during entire debate, saying “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.”
“I understand we can disagree on the path forward, but those kind of personal assessments and charges I feel particularly troubling,” she said.
In one of the liveliest exchanges, Sanders accused Clinton of being too willing to support war and lambasted her for taking advice from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Sanders ripped Clinton for calling Kissinger a “friend,” saying he was “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the history of this country” for his role in the Vietnam War. “Count me in as someone who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger,” he said.
Clinton questioned who advises Sanders, who has little foreign policy experience and not divulged his advisers. “Well, it ain’t Henry Kissinger,” he said.
She said she listens to a “wide variety” of advisers in various areas: “It’s a big complicated world out there,” she said.
With the next two caucus and primary states far more diverse than the first two, both candidates gave a not-so-subtle nod to black and Hispanic voters.
Sanders railed against a “broken criminal justice system” that results in more Americans in jail than any other country. Clinton insisted that she would tackle discrimination that African-Americans face, including in the job market, education, housing, and the criminal justice system.
We can’t rest, we have work to do.
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Sanders turned to link the challenges of the underclass to his criticism of Wall Street. “When you give low income kids ... the opportunities to get their lives together, they are not going to end up in jail,” he said.
He called for “fundamental police reform,” and said Americans are “sick and tired” of seeing unarmed African Americans killed by police officers. He called for demilitarizing police departments and said they need to look like the communities they serve.
Clinton worked to improve her support among women after a poor showing in New Hampshire as Sanders argued that his record on women’s issues was sound.
Clinton said she’d spent her “entire adult life” working to make sure that women can make their own choices, even if that choice is not to vote for her. “I’m not asking people to support me because I’m a woman,” she said.
She said she’d continue to make her case.
I have no argument with anyone making up her mind about who to support. I just hope that by the end of this campaign there will be a lot more supporting me.
She brushed off the controversial remark made by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that there was a “special place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” saying that Albright had been saying it for years.
Sanders said he had a lifetime 100 percent voting record supporting abortion rights and that he backs equal pay legislation.
Asked if he worried about thwarting Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president, he suggested that electing “somebody who has spent his entire life taking on the big money interests,” would be significant too.
Wall Street money
Sanders renewed his criticism of Clinton’s campaign benefiting from Wall Street donors and a super political action committee. “What we are talking about is a corrupt campaign finance system,” he said.
In response to a question, Clinton said she could not comment about the wealthy donations made to the super PAC, Priorities USA. “You are referring to a super PAC I don’t coordinate with,” she said.
Clinton said she is proud that she has received 700,000 donations, the majority of them small contributions. “We both have a lot of small donors,” she said. “They sets us apart from the Republican side.”
But Sanders, who has received 3.5 million donations, stressed that his campaign made the decision that it would not benefit from a super PAC.
Why in God’s name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it.
Hillary Clinton: “We are seeing the dark side of the remaining systemic racism that we have to root out in our society.”
Bernie Sanders: “Secretary Clinton, you are not in the White House yet.”