Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will meet for their second one-on-one debate Thursday night in Milwaukee, on a day when Clinton — who is now banking on minority voters to help her struggling candidacy — got a key endorsement from the Congressional Black Caucus.
The debate will begin at 9 p.m. and will be televised on PBS.
As the candidates prepared for the debate, Clinton got a bit of good news. She was endorsed by the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the black caucus, said no candidate “understands the racial divide” as well as Clinton does. With an implicit attack on Sanders, he dismissed candidates who “just promise wonderful things, but things that are politically impossible to achieve.”
But, also on Thursday, The Washington Post revealed new details about a State Department investigation into Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
The Washington Post reported that investigators with the State Department issued a subpoena to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation in the fall seeking documents about the charity’s projects that may have required approval from the federal government during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state.
The subpoena also asked for records related to Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide. For six months in 2012, Abedin was employed simultaneously by the State Department, the foundation, Clinton’s personal office and a private consulting firm with ties to the Clintons.
In Thursday’s debate, Clinton may face new questions about the relationships between her family’s foundation and people important to the state department — both its employees, and the foreign governments it had contact with — during her tenure as secretary. She may also face questions about her use of a private email server to handle government business during that period, which has raised questions about whether Clinton mishandled classified information.
Thursday will mark the first time the candidates have met since Sanders — a senator from Vermont who calls himself a “democratic socialist” — won a runaway victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire presidential primary.
This debate is likely to focus on the concerns of African American and Latino voters, who will play key roles in several upcoming Democratic contests. Clinton, having struggled in heavily white Iowa and New Hampshire, thinks her support among these voters will provide a “firewall” that stymies Sanders’s upstart campaign.
To hold that support, Clinton has focused in recent days on issues like gun control, criminal-sentencing reform and the disastrous mismanagement that allowed toxic lead to leach into drinking water in Flint, Mich.
But Sanders has been aggressively moving to appeal to the same voters, combining his core message about economic unfairness with his own calls to reform the criminal-justice system. The tests of his success will come in the next two Democratic contests, held in Nevada on Feb. 20 and in South Carolina on Feb. 27.
“If the elections were held today in both those states, we would lose,” Sanders told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “But I think we have momentum, I think we have a shot to win, and if we don’t win, we’ll do a lot better than people think we will.”
Thursday’s debate comes after a pair of early-state contests whose results would have been unthinkable a year ago.
Clinton — the former secretary of state, senator, first lady and the race’s original front-runner — only barely beat Sanders, a “democratic socialist” senator, in Iowa.
Then, in New Hampshire, Sanders crushed Clinton by 22 percentage points. In New Hampshire, Sanders beat Clinton among a variety of demographic groups, including women — who went for Sanders despite Clinton’s bid to be the first female president.
Also worrisome for Clinton: Exit polls showed Sanders overwhelmingly won young voters and middle-class voters. The only age group that went for Clinton was those older than 65, and the only income bracket that went for her was people making over $200,000 per year.
In the aftermath of that win, Sanders said he raised more than $6 million in new donations, according to press reports. That infusion of money, which the campaign said was largely from small-dollar donors, will allow Sanders to spend heavily on TV ads in the coming states.
In the last Democratic debate, held just days before New Hampshire voted, Clinton was the dominant figure: She criticized Sanders for what she said was an “artful smear” suggesting that she’d been unduly influenced by donations and speaking fees from Wall Street firms.
Clinton also sought to cast herself as a more pragmatic, effective liberal. She meant to contrast herself to Sanders, who has called for far-reaching — but unlikely-to-pass — proposals to offer government-run health insurance for all and make public college tuition-free.
“Let’s go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do,” Clinton said in that debate. “A progressive is someone who makes progress.”
Sanders countered that he was envisioning something more than just a presidential victory: He wanted a “political revolution” that would re-shape Congress, too. His ideas haven’t passed while he was just a senator, he said, but “I haven’t quite run for president before.”
A few days later, the revolutionary defeated the pragmatic progressive by more than 20 points. It was another sign that Clinton’s original theory of this race — that voters would value experience over outrage, and moderation over liberal ideals — was wrong, at least so far.