Clinton will seek a reboot against Sanders on debate stage – Los Angeles Times

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders meet in Milwaukee on Thursday night for a high-stakes debate that will give the Democrats‘ putative front-runner her first opportunity after a decisive rejection in New Hampshire to put to rest growing concerns about her candidacy.

Clinton is likely to use the debate stage to aggressively attack Sanders’ record, making the case that he has not been held to the same scrutiny as she has and that he wouldn’t be able to withstand it.

If so, the event will stand out from many of the other match-ups between the Democratic candidates, which Clinton treated more as warm-ups for the jousting to come with a Republican nominee than true contests for the Democratic nomination.

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After the New Hampshire loss, however, Clinton now faces a very real threat that she may not win her party’s nod.

The 22-percentage-point rout in New Hampshire was a startling wake-up call to the Clinton campaign and put Sanders in position to compete in states Clinton had already appeared to own. Clinton needs to reassure anxious backers that the embarrassing defeat on Tuesday was a one-off and not the first warning of a dowward spiral.

Clinton will be looking to cast doubt on the image Sanders has cultivated of himself as a politician who refuses to follow the rules of the Washington establishment. She is apt to argue that his disavowal of big donations from Wall Street, negative campaigning and dealmaking ring hollow. Her supporters have pointed to some of the campaign tactics the senator has engaged in, the swank Democratic Party fundraisers he participated in and some of the votes he has cast in Congress.

But nobody anticipates that Sanders will wither under the attacks. The Vermont senator has proven an unexpectedly tough rival for the more experienced Clinton on the debate stage, carefully calibrating his responses to Clinton’s attacks instead of getting rattled by them.

He consistently returns to the same message, which has served him well throughout the campaign: There is an unconscionable amount of corporate money in politics, it has led to an economy rigged against the middle class, and Hillary Clinton is one of the country’s biggest recipients of that corrupt cash.

Issues of race are likely to figure prominently in the exchanges. The candidates already are fiercely competing to win votes in Nevada and South Carolina, the two states that will hold nominating elections before the close of the month. In South Carolina, blacks now account for the majority of voters in the Democratic primary; Nevada has a large Latino population, and in 2008 Latinos made up nearly one-in-three voters in the state’s caucuses.

While the candidates generally take the same positions on immigration, police brutality, voting rights, environmental justice and other issues of particular concern to blacks and Latinos, Clinton is far better known in communities of color, and polls suggest she holds a substantial lead over Sanders in them.

Leading up to the debate, Clinton’s campaign attacked Sanders as a Johnny-come-lately on civil rights issues, saying Clinton was on the front lines of major fights while Sanders was at best an obscure backbencher.

Clinton has boosted her profile as a civil rights crusader lately by taking a leading role in demanding justice for the citizens of Flint, Mich., a low-income, majority African American city whose residents have been poisoned by lead in their drinking water. Hours before the debate, the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee formally endorsed Clinton.

But Sanders will make the case that his economic proposals — which include free tuition for public colleges nationwide, guaranteed government-funded healthcare and a $15 minimum wage — would do significantly more for economically disadvantaged minorities than Clinton’s more moderate plans.

In their last confrontation, which took place days before the voting in New Hampshire, the two clashed over the definition of “progressive.” Clinton accused Sanders of essentially hijacking the term, by defining it so restrictively that President Obama and Vice President Biden would not qualify because they have accepted campaign contributions from financial interests and championed the Pacific trade deal reviled by organized labor.

Clinton demanded that Sanders explain how even he qualifies under his own definition, given his history of voting against some gun safety rules. Clinton will be looking for opportunities to return to the gun issue again.

She may also look to critique Sanders’ proposal to create a European-style, government-run healthcare system for all Americans. Clinton and other leading Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, have warned that idea has no chance of succeeding in Congress.

But the healthcare issue is also potentially treacherous territory for Clinton since in the past she has backed a system not far from what Sanders envisions. The issue also gives Sanders yet another opportunity to rail against the billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying fees spent by big pharmaceutical firms and insurance companies and to question whether their influence over the political system is the reasons tens of millions of Americans are still uninsured or underinsured.

Beyond Sanders and Clinton, the person whose presence is most likely to be most felt in the debate is someone who won’t be in the room — Obama. The president’s name is sure to be brought up repeatedly, particularly by Clinton. She has made the case that she is the best positioned to carry on the president’s legacy.


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