In first one-on-one Democratic debate — and their sharpest yet — Clinton, Sanders come out swinging


February 4, 2016

DURHAM, N.H. — Now this is a Democratic debate.

February 4, 2016

DURHAM, N.H. — Now this is a Democratic debate.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shake hands at the start of the MSNBC Democratic Debate at the University of New Hampshire on Feb. 4, 2016, in Durham, N.H.. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the New Hampshire primaries.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton defended her connections to Wall Street on Thursday night, including her paid speeches to Wall Street firms, saying they were being used unfairly to cast her as soft on financial regulation.

“Look at my record. Look at what I am proposing. We have a vigorous agreement here. We both want to rein in the excesses of Wall Street,” Clinton said during her first one-on-one debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a “democratic socialist” who has made a Wall Street crackdown a key piece of his platform.

Clinton said that she had spoken to Wall Street firms during a broader set of talks to corporate groups after she left the State Department, and had not changed her policies to favor financial firms. In fact, Clinton said, she wants to regulate a broader set of firms whose financial risks could require future bailouts.

“If all we’re gonna talk about is one part of our economy, and indeed one street in our economy … we’re missing the big picture,” Clinton said.

Sanders responded that Clinton was underplaying Wall Street’s influence.

“Madam Secretary, it is not one street. Wall Street is an entity of unbelievable economic and political power,” Sanders said. He returned to a broader critique of the financial industry, saying that it provided little of true value to the American economy or American workers: “In my view, the business model of Wall Street is fraud. It’s fraud.”

The two candidates had their sharpest argument yet of the evening shortly before, with Sanders accusing Clinton of representing “the establishment,” and Clinton deriding Sanders as an unrealistic idealist whose campaign had carried out a “very artful smear” connecting her to Wall Street interests.

The debate, occurring just a few days before the New Hampshire primary, took place in a state where the original dynamic of the race had completely reversed. Clinton, who began the race as the prohibitive favorite, is a huge underdog here, in the state next to Sanders’s home state of Vermont.

In the 2008 campaign, losing transformed the defensive, standoffish Clinton into a more aggressive, active candidate. In this state, on this night, it seemed to be happening again. Clinton repeatedly challenged Sanders, at one point saying that his criticisms that she had taken too much Wall Street money was an insinuation that she was “bought.”

 “Enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly,” Clinton said. She also accused Sanders of holding out a too-pure standard for what constituted “progressivism,” and called him the “self-proclaimed gatekeeper” for progressivism. That was a sign of something else different. After years in which aggressive conservatives had made “liberal” a dirty word, and Democrats won by running to the center, here were two Democrats fighting over a label in the same way that Republicans fight over “conservative.”

Sanders responded with an answer that’s now familiar in those intra-Republican fights. His opponent, he said, represented the “establishment.” In this party, as in the other one, that word never means anything good.

“Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent ordinary working Americans,” Sanders said. He also said he wanted to change the Democratic party, which Sanders only recently joined after years as an official “independent.”

“Let me be frank: I do want to see major changes in the Democratic Party. I want to see working people, and young people, come into the Democratic Party in a way that doesn’t exist now,” Sanders said. “And I want a 50-state strategy, so the Democratic Party doesn’t just compete in 25 states.”

Clinton responded that the “establishment” label could not fit her, despite her long experience in Washington, as first lady, senator and secretary of state.

“A woman, running to be the first woman president, as the establishment. It’s really quite amusing to me,” Clinton said.

Earlier, Clinton had started the evening with an attack on rival Sanders’s policy ideas, saying that they were unrealistic and unworkable.

“The numbers just don’t add up, from what Senator Sanders has been proposing,” Clinton said, in response to a question from moderator Chuck Todd. Clinton said that her approach was more realistic. In particular, she said that Sanders’s plan for “single-payer” health care would cause a divisive and time-consuming debate which could undo the structure of President Obama’s health-care law. Clinton also criticized Sanders’s plan to make public college free for all, saying it would be too expensive.

“A progressive is someone who makes progress,” Clinton said. “That’s what I intend to do.”

Sanders replied that a number of European countries had approved single-payer health-care systems. “I do not accept the belief that the United States of America cannot do that,” Sanders said.

The battle over the label “progressive” dominated the early minutes of the debate, too: Moderators asked Clinton about Sanders’s charges that she did not meet the modern definition of the word. Clinton responded by criticizing Sanders’s positions on gun laws, which have been a rare place where Sanders is not at the left edge of Congress.

“I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady bill five times,” Clinton said, referencing a major bill that instituted background checks for gun buyers.

“We can go back and forth like this.”

The debate began at 9 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. This is the first time the two have debated without former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who struggled to find a niche between the former secretary of state and the “democratic socialist” senator and who dropped out of the race after Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

The one-on-one format and the stakes going into the New Hampshire primary might also explain the much more combative tone both candidates seemed to be taking Thursday, with both Clinton and Sanders raising their voices and appearing much more demonstrative than in previous debates.

In this debate, both Clinton and Sanders will be playing an unfamiliar role.

For Sanders, that means being the front-runner.

The Vermont senator has spent most of this race as an underdog, chipping away at Clinton’s by highlighting her close ties to Wall Street and her policy shifts on issues like the Iraq War and same-sex marriage.

He was still doing it Thursday, in an appearance in Rochester, N.H., just hours before the debate.

“Sometimes it’s easy to apologize for a bad vote 15 or 20 years later when the tide has changed,” Sanders said at a rally here. He was referring to Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War, which came in 2002 while she was a Democratic senator from New York. Clinton has apologized for that vote. Sanders, then in the House, voted no. “It is a lot harder to stand up … and cast the right vote. That’s what leadership is about, not having to apologize for what's right.”

But now, in New Hampshire, which is next door to his home state, Sanders is playing Clinton’s old role: trying to hold on to a huge lead. He is leading Clinton 61 percent to 30 percent among likely Democratic primary voters, according to the latest CNN/WMUR poll. The margin was 58 to 38 percent in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.

In recent days, Sanders has tried to lower expectations here, even as the polls have raised them. He’s talked about the Clinton family’s long experience in New Hampshire, and Hillary Clinton’s own win in New Hampshire in 2008.

Clinton, by contrast, is playing up the underdog role — trying to make expectations low, then beat them. Clinton’s campaign has said New Hampshire is Sanders’s “back yard,” but she has poured in supporters to try to close the gap in the polls.

Clinton barely beat Sanders in the Iowa caucuses Monday. Her campaign has said, though, that the road will get easier for her after these first two states, which have a lot of white voters and very liberal voters — two groups among whom Sanders does well.

Earlier this week, Sanders said that Clinton is a progressive “some days,” except when she “announces she is a moderate.”

Clinton called Sanders’ comments a “low blow,” but her pitch to voters is essentially based on the idea that Sanders’s brand of progressivism is too idealistic and uncompromising to ever work in the real world.

“I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” Clinton said at a CNN forum Wednesday in which the two candidates appeared one after the other.

Clinton’s campaign announced Thursday evening that she would leave New Hampshire briefly Sunday to visit the city of Flint, Mich. In Flint, a poor city with a large African American population, a series of government breakdowns meant that residents’ drinking water was highly contaminated with lead.

Debate moderators Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd listen as Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton answer questions during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Durham, N.H.

Democrats have said that the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, should resign for the role his state government played in causing the problem and failing to notify residents quickly.

Also Thursday, Clinton reported that her campaign had raised $15 million in January — $5 million less than Sanders’s, according to the Associated Press. The AP said this was the first time an opponent had out-raised her.

A day after taking the stage separately for a town hall, the two Democratic presidential hopefuls are set to share one Thursday night in what could be a defining debate days before the New Hampshire primary.

The Clinton-Sanders race was once marked by polite disagreements about governing style. Sanders, of course, famously dismissed a damaging Clinton scandal by saying he didn’t actually care about “your damn emails.”

But as their race has tightened, both sides have turned less polite.

The Sanders campaign has criticized the speaking fees Clinton accepted from large financial firms, including Goldman Sachs. To Sanders — who wants to have government break up these banks to reduce their power — the payments are proof that Clinton owes Wall Street a favor.

Clinton allies have pointed to a blurb Sanders wrote for a book that argues that President Obama let progressives down.

Courtesy: Washington Post