DES MOINES — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will appear on the same stage Monday night for the final time before the Iowa caucuses in a forum that offers the Democratic presidential hopefuls a chance to air their differences in an increasing combative race.
With just a week remaining until the first presidential nominating contest, Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley are all planning to participate in a “presidential town hall” to be broadcast live on CNN at 9 p.m. EST.
To comply with a Democratic National Committee rule limiting the number of formal debates, the candidates are scheduled to take questions separately from moderator Chris Cuomo and the audience. Sanders, O’Malley and then Clinton will each have 30 minutes on stage, according to CNN.
The forum comes at a key juncture in the race, with recent polls showing Clinton’s once-formidable lead over Sanders having vanished.
In recent weeks, the former secretary of state has turned far more aggressive, seeking to put the Vermont senator on his heels on issues including gun control, health care and reproductive rights.
Clinton has also argued that she is the only candidate prepared to do the entire job of being president — a not-so-subtle dig at a competitor whose campaign has focused largely on economic issues. She has suggested that Sanders is not pushing realistic policy ideas, citing as a prime example his plan for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health plan.
Aides say Clinton is expected to use the CNN forum to continue to highlight what she sees as defining differences with Sanders.
Sanders, meanwhile, has been taking aim at Clinton more directly than ever. In a Washington Post interview over the weekend, he said Clinton was running a “desperate” campaign incapable of generating the kind of excitement his has. Sanders sharply questioned Clinton’s association with David Brock, who runs a pro-Clinton super PAC, repeatedly calling him a “hit man,” and he said he expects the Clinton campaign to throw “the kitchen sink” at him to try to blunt his momentum.
At the same time, Sanders has stepped up his attacks on Clinton for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from banking and corporate interests in the run-up to her 2016 campaign. He has singled out her payments from giant investment firm Goldman Sachs, suggesting that undercuts her ability to pursue serious Wall Street reform.
For O’Malley, Monday night represents a final chance to be seen as relevant before a national audience. Despite spending more time in Iowa than either Clinton or Sanders, O’Malley has remained mired in the single digits in polling.
Under the complicated rules of the Iowa caucuses, in most of the 1,681 precincts, a candidate must get 15 percent support to be considered viable. Otherwise, his supporters must align with another candidate or sit out the rest of the process.
Some longtime caucus-watchers think that dynamic could tip a close race in the direction of either Clinton or Sanders, depending on who is the more popular second choice of O’Malley supporters.